International intrigue throughout Belmont Stakes Festival

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

June 7th, 2016

Given its position right up against Royal Ascot on the calendar, the Belmont Stakes Festival isn’t going to lure too many international headliners. But the three-day event still features several enterprising shippers.

Here are my form comments on the international entrants in Thursday’s and Friday’s stakes, with Saturday's to follow after the fields are drawn.

Thursday's inaugural Belmont Coronation Invitational offers a $200,000 purse for a relatively small segment of the Thoroughbred population – fillies and mares with the aptitude for 1 15/16 miles on the inner turf. Theoretically, that could have been enticing for any long-winded handicapper/borderline listed type, but only one international is willing to give it a go. And she’s owned by New York-based AJ Suited Racing.

Brandybend, a Beverly D. (G1) nominee, has twice placed in listed stakes in addition to an eighth in an ambitious tilt in last summer’s Ribblesdale (G2) at Royal Ascot. Yet in a significant respect, she’s not quite the type I envisioned for this race when it was first announced. For her best efforts have come in the vicinity of 1 1/4 miles, and this is a gigantic step up in trip to nearly two miles.

Indeed, the initial plan was to try Friday’s New York (G2) until that came up quite deep. Racing manager Justin Nicholson tweeted of the change in target: “Hoping to zig while others are zagging by sending Brandybend out on Thurs for a try in the Coronation at Belmont. 200k w 6 horse field helps.”

While this doesn’t feature the heavy-hitters that the New York does, it’s worth recalling that trainer Marco Botti had expressed skepticism about her stamina for the 1 1/2-mile Ribblesdale. As Botti made clear at the time, that was the owner’s spotting. Obviously, part of the concern was the class of opponent you run into at Royal Ascot. But the Coronation Invitational still remains a stern test of stamina that she otherwise wouldn’t have tried.

On the plus side, Brandybend is by supersire Galileo. Her dam, Elusive Wave, is a French classic-winning miler who won’t help her staying capacity.

Second to John Gosden’s Martlet on debut, Brandybend broke her maiden at Sandown, finished fifth in an Oaks trial at Newbury, and later last fall earned black-type when third in the Severals S. at Newmarket. She put up another solid effort in the April 3 Prix Zarkava at Saint-Cloud, checking in best of the rest behind the progressive Marypop (who just came back to take the Prix Allez France [G3]) and edging Havana Moon (see below in the New York). Brandybend flopped last time out at Ayr, but she gets the benefit of Lasix here. As a useful enough type with a modicum of tactical speed, she can make her presence felt – if she stays.

Also Thursday, the seven-furlong Intercontinental has no foreign-trained runners, but the ex-French La Berma makes her second stateside start for Jim Cassidy. Competing exclusively in stakes company since her debut score, she was a fine second to Impassable in the Prix de Sandringham (G2) and ended the season in over her head versus high-class males in the Prix de la Foret (G1).

On Friday, the New York's (G2)  invading duo of Havana Moon and Kyllachy Queen, both Beverly D. nominees, aren’t anywhere near the standard set by Sea Calisi.

Although trained in France by Mikel Delzangles, Havana Moon is ironically the only Kentucky-bred in the field bristling with imports. John Gunther’s homebred daughter of Malibu Moon and a Sadler’s Wells mare was also nominated to Saturday’s Manhattan (G1), but is wisely in her own division here.

Havana Moon drops back in trip after trailing versus males in the 1 1/2-mile Prix d’Hedouville (G3). (The winner, well-regarded One Foot in Heaven, just added Sunday’s Grand Prix de Chantilly [G2].) Two back, Havana Moon did her best work late to get up for third, just a head shy of aforementioned runner-up Brandybend, in the about 10 1/2-furlong Prix Zarkava. She’ll need to improve to make the frame here, but she could find American racing conditions more suitable.

Note that Havana Moon had a couple of fancy entries in the Prix Saint-Alary (G1) and Prix de Diane (French Oaks) (G1) earlier in her career. And even in a few of her maiden losses, she was bumping into future Group 1-placed performers like Akatea and Via Pisa. In other words, she could be better than her bare record implies.

Kyllachy Queen, a stablemate of Brandybend’s from the Botti yard, has been acquired by Castleton Lyons. I wonder if an American venture would have been considered by her former connections, or if her plans have changed in concert with her ownership.

Originally trained in Italy by Marco’s brother Stefano, Kyllachy Queen is an admirably consistent sort whose only poor effort came in last spring’s Italian 1000 Guineas (G3). The multiple listed stakes winner moved to England last fall and made a promising start when second in a salty conditions race on Wolverhampton’s Tapeta. Kyllachy Queen opened 2016 by capturing the Snowdrop on Kempton’s Polytrack, but found Newmarket’s Dahlia (G2) beyond her and wound up sixth.

As a daughter of sprint influence Kyllachy, she’s not certain to be effective on the step up in trip here. But her good attitude, and her dam’s side, could help.

In Friday's Belmont Gold Cup Invitational, Now We Can brings a touch of international class to the 2-mile test, and not just because he’s owned by Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges.

Trained by Nicolas Clement (brother of Christophe), Now We Can compiled a five-race winning streak in 2012-13 culminating in the Grand Prix de Chantilly. He subsequently finished a creditable fourth in the 2013 Canadian International (G1). After a subpar 12th in the Dubai Gold Cup (G2) in his only try at this trip, he narrowly failed to repeat in the 2014 Grand Prix de Chantilly (beaten a head by Spiritjim with Ivanhowe back in sixth).

Unfortunately, Now We Can was unable to find a home at stud for 2015 and ended up being gelded. The 7-year-old resurfaced from his long layoff this spring with a trio of useful efforts, including a conditions win on Chantilly’s Polytrack and a close second to Pascal Bary’s upwardly mobile Launched in his return to turf and listed company.

At this stage, it makes sense for Now We Can to try to find a niche in the long-distance ranks. He’d bolted up over 1 3/4 miles earlier in his career, so I’m not judging him on the basis of his Dubai flop, where other proven stayers also underperformed. Now We Can is nominated to the American St Leger (G3), and this could be his launching pad. Most of his form is on softish going of varying degrees, but connections must think he’s ground adaptable enough to ship.

We'll be back later in the week to look at  the international interests on Saturday, chiefly Sloane Avenue in the Met Mile (G1) and Irish Rookie in the Just a Game (G1). Flintshire is the top draw in the Manhattan of course, but since he's joined Chad Brown, he now counts as an emigre.