International challengers loom large in Belmont Derby
They aren't Europe's best, but the continent's three representatives in Saturday's $1.25 million Belmont Derby (G1) still figure to pack a formidable punch against 10 U.S.-based entrants in the 1 1/4-mile grass test that highlights Belmont Park's Stars & Stripes Festival.
Aidan O'Brien trains two of the foreign raiders in Deauville and Long Island Sound. A Group 3 winner at two and narrowly beaten in the Dante (G2) and Royal Lodge (G2), Deauville has earned most of the early pub, but Long Island Sound started his career earlier this year with three straight wins and was most recently third in the Tercentenary (G3) at Royal Ascot to Hawkbill, winner of last week's Eclipse (G1) at Sandown.
Deauville has disappointed in both tries at the top level, running fifth in the Racing Post Trophy (G1) in his only start with blinkers, and 11th in the Derby (G1) at Epsom last time.
Also from across the pond is Humphrey Bogart, a good second to the well-regarded filly So Mi Dar in the Derby Trial at Epsom and follow-up winner of the Lingfield Derby Trial. However, the Richard Hannon trainee was only fifth in the Derby itself and a nondescript sixth in the King Edward VII (G2) at last month's Royal Ascot meeting.
The American contingent should not be taken lightly. Camelot Kitten has scored back-to-back wins in the American Turf (G2) and Pennine Ridge (G3) since adding blinkers, and Highland Sky, Call Provision, and Toughest 'Ombre all finished within a half-length of him in the latter.
Beach Patrol was a sharp second to Camelot Kitten in the American Turf, but regressed last time in the Penn Mile (G3). In contrast, Airoforce fared better at Penn National, where he rallied to finish second to front-running filly (and stablemate) Catch a Glimpse, than at Churchill, where he set the pace and faded to fourth.
"He was off form at the beginning of the year, but he need the race on Derby Day and I thought he had a tough trip in the Penn Mile," said Airoforce's assistant trainer Norm Casse. "I really think he's sitting on a big one on Saturday.
"He's a horse that doesn't run as well when he gets pressed or whenever the pace is a little hotter. I think he showed a new dimension last time, that he can sit off of horses. The race, going from a mile to a mile and a quarter, the pace will be a little bit slower, he'll be able to relax a little bit more early, and I actually think that will actually be better for him."
A couple dark horses in the lineup are Surgical Strike, who rallied from far back to get third in the American Turf prior to a recent score in the Arlington Classic (G3), and the lightly-raced Aquaphobia, a recent stakes winner at Delaware who was not far behind Camelot Kitten in a Keeneland allowance in only his second start back in April.
Camelot Kitten photo courtesy of Coady Photography/Churchill Downs