Stars and Stripes Racing Festival looks pretty special
by Dick Powell
Whether you like grouping big races on a single day, I have to admit that Saturday’s card at Belmont Park looks like it will be pretty special.
Billed as the Stars and Stripes Racing Festival, even though most of us celebrated the Stars and Stripes on Tuesday, it strings together five graded stakes races culminating in the $1.2 million Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes (G1) for three-year-olds going 1 1/4 miles on the inner turf course.
The Dwyer Stakes (G3), now run at one mile on the dirt, serves as a logical follow-up to the seven-furlong Woody Stephens (G2) run on Belmont Stakes Day. But, with the nine-furlong Haskell Invitational (G1) and Jim Dandy (G2) coming up, this year’s Dwyer only attracted a field of five.
The two favorites in the Dwyer are BATTALION RUNNER (Unbridled’s Song) at 6-5 and PRACTICAL JOKE (Into Mischief) at 7-5.
Battalion Runner looked great at Gulfstream Park this winter with a maiden and allowance win, then shipped to Aqueduct for the Wood Memorial (G2), where he was run down in the lane by IRISH WAR CRY (Curlin). Taken off the Triple Crown trail by Todd Pletcher, he has trained extremely well the past month for this, and a one-turn mile should be right in his wheelhouse.
Practical Joke was second in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland in April then ran pretty well to be fifth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) from post 19. Like Battalion Runner, whose stablemate ALWAYS DREAMING (Bodemeister) won the Kentucky Derby, Practical Joke’s stablemate CLOUD COMPUTING (Maclean’s Music) won the Preakness Stakes (G1). This is a not an indication of them being second-strong horses, but a testament to the strength and depth of the Pletcher and Chad Brown barns.
Looming on the outside will be GIUSEPPE THE GREAT (Lookin at Lucky), who was a game second in the Woody Stephens when shuffled back from post one. He draws post five here and Tyler Gaffalione should be able to stalk while clear on the outside.
Next up will be the Belmont Sprint Championship (G2) for three-year-olds and up going seven furlongs on the main track.
MIND YOUR BISCUITS (Posse) is the 9-5 morning-line favorite, and if recent workouts have anything to do with the result here, they are all running for second money.
Winner of the Malibu Stakes (G1) going this distance at Santa Anita the day after Christmas, he was second in his prep race at Gulfstream Park then won the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) at Meydan by three lengths. It has been 105 days since his Dubai trip, which is plenty of time for him to run well here, and his bullet five-furlong workout two weeks ago on the main track was spectacular.
The $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes (G1) will be the 8TH race and the big purse has attracted a field of 12. No dominant three-year-old filly has shown up, but the three international shippers look tough in here. Two of them have already been moved to Chad Brown’s barn and two others are from his domestic stable.
SISTERCHARLIE (Myboycharlie) was a winner of a Group 3 going left-handed at Saint Cloud in France two starts back, then was a good second most recently in the Prix de Diane (Fr-G1), also known as the French Oaks, at Chantilly. Even though she drew post 12 here, she showed a lot of pace in France and will benefit from a firm turf course.
Aidan O’Brien’s presence is always noted and while KEY TO MY HEART (Galileo) is not even among his top six sophomore fillies, O’Brien ships for a reason, and not the season, so $1 million purse on firm turf has attracted him to take the trip across the pond. Outrun in both of her group tries, she won going this distance on yielding turf last out in Ireland and adds Lasix for the first time. Her sire is, simply put, the greatest sire we have ever seen, and the distance will be no problem.
If you are looking for a price, check out 15-1 BEAU RECALL (Sir Prancealot), who is shipping in from Santa Anita for Simon Callaghan. She has been able to handle the increase in distance, and can settle early and come on strong with one run. From post two, new rider Flavien Prat (21 percent with his turf rides) should be able to save ground and be a big factor in the stretch.
The Suburban Handicap (G2) is the 9TH race and, even though nobody was assigned a high weight impost, it only attracted a field of six despite a $750,000 purse. In today’s world, it’s too close to the Whitney Handicap (G1) up at Saratoga and 10 furlongs is too far for many of these.
Still, SHAMAN GHOST (Ghostzapper) has won three times at the distance and KEEN ICE (Curlin) won the Travers Stakes (G1) over Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) two years ago. Jimmy Jerkens has done a great job with Shaman Ghost, picking his spots while picking up good money and trying to avoid Arrogate (Unbridled’s Song). He goes for his third straight win, loves this main track and only has to tote 123 pounds while giving six pounds at most.
Eleven sophomore colts are entered in the featured $1.2 million Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes (G1) with three Euro shippers, two of whom are Group 3 winners. Even though European turf form is way better than ours, the timing of the race precludes the better three-year-old males from shipping over. The Irish Derby (Ire-G1), run last weekend at the Curragh, was worth $1.1 million so it’s not enough money to have a trainer change a major horse’s plans.
I am thinking that the Americans have this race at their mercy, especially if the turf comes up firm. Trainer Brian Lynch seems to have OSCAR PERFORMANCE (Kitten’s Joy) back on his game and he will be tough to catch when Jose Ortiz puts him on the lead. TICONDEROGA (Tapit) looks like he will need every bit of the 10 furlongs to get unwound, and YOSHIDA (Heart’s Cry) has suddenly come to hand for Bill Mott with only three career starts.
MAKARIOS (Giant’s Causeway) has been pointed for this race since a terrific maiden win at 9 1/2 furlongs in fast time at Gulfstream Park this winter. He was third in a Grade 3 at Keeneland next out then stayed there to win an allowance to further his learning curve.
Last out, Angel Arroyo inexplicably put him on the hedge and by the time he got clear on the outside, the race was over after a very slow pace. Today, he gets the red-hot Tyler Gaffalione – 23 percent winners on the turf this year – and could be a stretch factor if the field doesn’t bunch up too much turning for home.