Belmont Stakes international scouting report: France Go de Ina

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May 28th, 2021

France Go de Ina is pursuing a $1 million bonus for a Japanese shipper who can win the Belmont S. (G1).

Although only seventh in the Preakness S. (G1), he has a plausible case to move forward in the third jewel of the Triple Crown, as a couple other Japanese sophomores have done in recent years. Yet the sticking point remains his unproven class.

Background going into Preakness

Complete analysis (and race replays) can be found in his international scouting report for the Preakness, so we’ll just review the highlights here. France Go de Ina has a pedigree suited for the American classics, as a Kentucky-bred son of champion Will Take Charge and a Curlin mare. Trainer Hideyuki Mori has a history of success on the international stage, if not stateside.

In his Nov. 7 unveiling at Tokyo, France Go de Ina finished fourth, behind winner Lemon Pop, the next-out winner of the Cattleya S. on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. He might have finished closer but for a slow start in the about 6 1/2-furlong dash.

France Go de Ina won his next two starts at Hanshin, both at an about 1 1/8-mile trip that played to his strengths. After better breaks, the chestnut took up a forward position and wired a Nov. 28 maiden, then tracked the leader in a Dec. 19 allowance.

After fever scrapped plans for the Feb. 20 Saudi Derby, France Go de Ina shipped to Dubai and tried the March 27 UAE Derby (G2) off a three-month layoff. His lack of a prep was compounded by a slow start, and he found himself shuffled back to last. France Go de Ina ultimately managed to work his way into sixth, behind Belmont rival Rebel’s Romance. That was a creditable effort, considering he would have been more effective up on the pace. Even with his ideal trip, however, it’s doubtful he could have resisted the onslaught of Rebel’s Romance, who brings stronger credentials for the Belmont.

Preakness effort

In the middle jewel at Pimlico, France Go de Ina answered one key question left unresolved by his cakewalks at Hanshin — he can stalk an American-style early pace. The 24-1 shot broke on terms with the field, bagged a spot just behind Medina Spirit and Midnight Bourbon, and appeared rank alongside Crowded Trade.

When Medina Spirit left a hole to the inside as the field advanced down the backstretch, France Go de Ina made a bid and briefly threatened the leader. But his challenge was short-lived, and he began to retreat around the far turn. Under considerate handling by Joel Rosario, who also rode him in Dubai, France Go de Ina checked in 17 1/2 lengths behind surging winner Rombauer.  

Speaking to the Japan Racing Association, Mori recapped the trip:

“He was better out of the gate than I had expected him to be, and early on, he was able to get a good position. But he did become keen ... in places, and that was somewhat unfortunate.

”Turning out of the backstretch, he had a clear path, and that's where the jockey decided to make his move. But the pace picked up at that point. In the end, it came down to him not having quite enough.”

In his comments (via interpreter) to the Maryland Jockey Club, Mori noted the kickback was a factor:

“He started pretty well, but the position he ended up taking there was a bit of kickback, and he hates kickback. He was fighting it. It's a little disappointing. We really hoped he would get a spot outside of horses, where he wouldn't get any dirt kicked in his face, and I think that would have helped him focus more on the race. He didn't show his full potential today.”

Rosario thought that France Go de Ina lost focus in new surroundings and got tired:

“He ran good — better than last time (in the UAE Derby). He was sitting good for a little while, and then he got a little tired. This was a little different for him. He was looking around and checking everything out. He wasn’t sure. But you know, he did fine.”

Belmont prospects

Mori also believes fitness played a role at Pimlico. In just his second start of the season, after he racked up air miles, France Go de Ina was eligible to react. Now he’s had more time to regroup stateside and strip fitter, as his trainer told NYRA:

“It looks like he has settled in well (at Belmont Park) and is in very good condition. He looks like he has got all his weight back from after the race and all the travel.

“He was good at the beginning (of the Preakness), but he seemed to get a little tired at the end. He went from Dubai to Japan and then Japan to the Preakness, and he probably needed the race to be more fit for the Belmont.”

With a more moderate pace scenario, the 1 1/2-mile distance, the vast expanse of Belmont Park, and improved physical condition, France Go de Ina has every chance to do himself justice. He’ll have to do so without Rosario, who understandably has stuck with Rock Your World. Ricardo Santana Jr. has picked up the riding assignment aboard France Go de Ina.

The Belmont brought out the best for two other Japanese contenders in the Triple Crown. Lani (2016), who tried all three classics, progressed with every start. Ninth in the Kentucky Derby (G1), he cut his beaten margin in half when fifth in the Preakness, and then came closest (1 1/2 lengths) when third in the Belmont. Master Fencer (2019), elevated to sixth in the Derby after the disqualification of Maximum Security, improved to fifth in the Belmont.

The rub is whether France Go de Ina’s best can get him into the placings. He has to engineer a much bigger turnaround than Lani and Master Fencer, but doesn't offer much of a form barometer. Lani won the UAE Derby, albeit not a vintage edition. Master Fencer inherited the Japan Road ticket when more qualified candidates declined the invitation. France Go de Ina never ran in a Japan Road event, or any stakes at home, which makes him more of a conundrum than Master Fencer.

It’s arguable that the 2021 Belmont might turn out to be better than the 2016 and 2019 editions. If so, he would have to be better than Lani and Master Fencer to land a blow.

France Go de Ina still has reasonable hope to show more, but he requires a leap of faith.