ELMONT, N.Y. – The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) announced the invitees for the 10-furlong beginning legs of the Caesars Turf Triple series, featuring the Grade 1, $1 million Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational for sophomores and the Grade 1, $700,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational for 3-year-old fillies.
A total of 26 horses from across the U.S. and Europe are invited with local representation from Hall of Fame trainers Todd Pletcher and Shug McGaughey, as well as four-time Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown and Kentucky Derby-winning conditioner Graham Motion.
European conditioners sending horses across the Atlantic include the internationally acclaimed Aidan O’Brien, who swept last year’s Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks with Bolshoi Ballet and Santa Barbara, respectively; Charlie Appleby, who sent Yibir to win the 2021 Jockey Club Derby; Joseph O’Brien, who saddled State of Rest to capture the 2021 Saratoga Derby; along with Charlie Johnston and France-based Pia Brandt, Fabrice Chappet and Francis-Henri Graffard.
Pletcher, who has Annapolis, Grand Sonata and Emmanuel for the Belmont Derby, said he welcomes the challenge of facing strong European competition over the six Turf Triple races which offer a combined $5.1 million in purse money.
“You’re going to encounter the best and that’s why the series was designed,” Pletcher said. “That’s what you would expect in these big million-dollar races. It will be a challenge, I’m sure.”
The opening legs of the Turf Triple series are part of four graded events slated for the Stars and Stripes Racing Festival on Saturday, July 9, which also boasts the Grade 2, $400,000 Suburban, a 10-furlong test for older horses; and the Grade 3, $150,000 Victory Ride, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for sophomore fillies.
The Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational will again launch the male division of the Turf Triple series that encompasses the Grade 1, $1 million Caesars Saratoga Derby Invitational at 1 3/16-miles on August 6 and the Grade 3, $1 million Caesars Jockey Club Derby Invitational at 12 furlongs during the Belmont fall meet.
The Belmont Oaks Invitational commences the female division of the Turf Triple series, which will be followed by the Grade 3, $700,000 Saratoga Oaks at 1 3/16-miles on August 7 and conclude with the Grade 3, $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks at 11 furlongs during the fall.
The English contingent for the Belmont Derby includes a pair of strong contenders in Highclere Thoroughbred Racing’s Royal Patronage and Godolphin’s Nations Pride, as well as multiple serious contenders for the Belmont Oaks.
Well-regarded Royal Patronage, like Nations Pride, exits a loss in the Group 1 Derby at Epsom over 12 furlongs of good going on June 4, finishing well back of dominant favorite Desert Crown. Trained by the father-son partnership of Mark and Charlie Johnston at their Middleham base, he will run in the latter’s name, per sole-licensing NYRA rules. The elder Johnston, at age 62 and a native of Scotland, is an iconic figure in European racing and his 4,869 UK flat race wins are the most in the nation’s history. He joined forces with Charlie, 31, at the end of the 2021 season.
Royal Patronage, by Wootton Bassett, defeated subsequent Group 1 2000 Guineas and Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes winner Coroebus in the Group 2 Royal Lodge last September, one race after upsetting another Godolphin Royal Ascot victor, Group 3 Jersey winner Noble Truth, in August’s Group 3 Acomb at York.
“Royal Patronage has been fine since the Derby,” Charlie Johnston said. “Obviously, it was a disappointing run there, beaten a long way out. It was quite clearly a below-par effort and one we can put a line through. It looks like the trip, track and ground—all the conditions at Belmont—should suit him well. I’m looking forward to taking him out there.”
Charlie Appleby-trained Nations Pride exits an eighth at Epsom, five weeks after a seven-length drubbing of subsequent Derby runner-up Hoo Ya Mal in the Listed Newmarket Stakes. The homebred had a four-race win streak snapped at Epsom, with his three previous wins all coming on flat courses – something that should speak to his Belmont favor – including a 3 1/4-length waltz in the 10-furlong Jumeirah Derby at Meydan in Dubai. The son of Teofilo is a grandson of Group 1 winner and 2006 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf fifth Satwa Queen, a 10-furlong specialist.
“He just didn’t stay in the English Derby. It’s as simple as that and the ground would have been a question,” Appleby said. “The quicker the ground, the better for him and he’s proven that already at Meydan’s quick, sound surface. More importantly, coming back to the 10 furlongs will suit. He stays that well and on a sound surface, especially. He’s coming over there in good order and I think he’ll be a live player.”
Appleby, who took home three Breeders’ Cup trophies for Godolphin last November at Del Mar, may seek another U.S. stakes treble when he potentially sends out Godolphin homebreds With The Moonlight in the Belmont Oaks and Creative Flair in the $150,000 River Memories over 12 furlongs on turf for older fillies and mares on July 10.
With The Moonlight, who captured Newmarket’s listed Pretty Polly in May, exits an off-the-board effort in the Group 1 Oaks at Epsom on June 3. The daughter of Frankel is a full-sister to firm ground-loving Group 1 winner Dream Castle and was twice a winner over flat courses as a juvenile.
“I hate to sound like I’m repeating myself, but she’s pretty similar to Nations Pride,” Appleby continued. “She got beat as a juvenile on the back end over soft ground in a listed race and then came out and won the Pretty Polly decisively on quick ground. In the Oaks, she similarly didn’t stay on that [softer] ground. Back to a mile and a quarter and back on a sound surface should suit. They have very similar profiles and if they both turn up fit and well, they’ll be very competitive.”
Creative Flair shipped over to be third in the Saratoga Oaks and fourth in the Jockey Club Oaks last year. She kicked off her season with a strong victory in the Group 2 Balanchine at Meydan over nine furlongs. While her long-term target is the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana on July 16 at Saratoga, a run prior is not ruled out at Belmont in the River Memories, which is contested over a trip her stakes-winning stayer dam Hidden Gold relished.
“She’s nominated for the [River Memories] and her eventual goal is the Diana at Saratoga,” Appleby said. “That’s always been her target since Dubai. She’s in the process of working back from that and is doing everything that’s being asked of her. If she brings her ‘A-game,’ she will be a big player around there.”
Ireland’s contingent is led by a trio from Ballydoyle-based Aidan O’Brien, who also won the Belmont Derby with Deauville . The 13-time Breeders’ Cup-winning conditioner returns with highly-rated Stone Age and today’s Group 3 International-winner Aikhal in the Belmont Derby, as well as Concert Hall in the Belmont Oaks.
Stone Age, bred and co-owned by Peter Brant with Coolmore partners Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Westerberg, ran a strong second as a maiden in the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud in October before graduating in March at Navan in his seasonal debut. The son of Galileo followed with an eye-catching score in the Group 3 Derby Trial at Leopardstown over 10 furlongs before finishing sixth in the Group 1 Epsom Derby as the second choice.
Ms. Mary Slack, Coolmore and Westerberg’s Aikhal, also by Galileo, is out of the Group 3-winner Diamond Fields, a half-sibling to 2018 Group 1 Irish Derby winner Latrobe. Aikhal graduated in September at Listowel and was fourth in the Group 1 Criterium in October at Saint-Cloud ahead of an off-the-board effort in the Group 1 St. James’s Palace on June 14 at Royal Ascot. He captured the 10-furlong International on Saturday at The Curragh under jockey Ryan Moore.
“He’s very comfortable at a mile and a quarter. We’ll go up in class with him now and see,” O’Brien said following the International score. “He traveled with loads of gears today and there were older horses going a good gallop, and he moved up and quickened. And like Ryan said, he ran through the line. So, he got the mile and a quarter very well.”
O’Brien captured the Belmont Oaks with Athena  and Santa Barbara  and will look to add to his ledger with Michael Tabor, Mrs. J. Magnier, Derrick Smith and Westerberg’s Group 3-winner Concert Hall. A bay daughter of European classic winners Dubawi and Was, Concert Hall landed September’s Group 3 Weld Park at The Curragh before placing in the Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas over the same course and finishing fourth in the Oaks at Epsom.
Trainer Joseph O’Brien, son of Aidan, will be represented in the Belmont Oaks by Scott C. Heider’s consistent Agartha. Nine times in the top three from 11 tries, she was one length behind runner-up and subsequent [English] Oaks winner Tuesday when fifth in the Irish 1000 Guineas last out on May 22.
As a juvenile, Concert Hall won a pair of group races over seven furlongs, including The Curragh’s Group 2 Debutante, but she has yet to race beyond one mile. A daughter of European champion sprinter Caravaggio and firm ground-loving Arya Tara, a Listed winner over 14 furlongs, she offers ample intrigue stepping up to this challenge from a yard that won last year’s Belmont Gold Cup with Baron Samedi.
“Agartha is an intended runner and obviously she ran very well last time in the Guineas,” Joseph O’Brien said. “The step up in the distance is slightly unknown, but there’s plenty of stamina in her pedigree. She was a high-class 2-year-old, who seems to have done well onto this season. We’re excited about taking her out there and hoping she can run very well.”
France could be represented by as many as four runners, led by a pair from the Pia Brandt in Abdullah Almaddah’s Belmont Derby hopeful Implementation and Finn Blichfeldt’s Belmont Oaks-bound Hot Queen. The former, a homebred son of Constitution, exits an even effort when last-of-4 in the Group 3 Prix Paul de Moussac at Chantilly over good-to-soft ground. One race prior, he was third to subsequent Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club [French Derby] winner Vadeni in the Group 3 Prix de Guiche.
“He’s a horse who likes a good pace and isn’t big, so I think the track there will suit him,” said Brandt, who was second in the 2017 Belmont Derby with Called To The Bar. “He came out brilliant after his run. He has also travelled before without problem. He loves travelling and eats and drinks all the time, so I don’t think it’ll be a problem for him.”
Hot Queen, a cleverly named daughter of Queen Elizabeth II’s Group 3 winner Recorder and stakes-placed mare Hot Fudge, exits a sixth over soft ground in Chantilly’s Group 2 Prix de Sandringham. Previously, she was a respectable third in Longchamp’s Group 3 Prix Vanteaux on April 10, four weeks after taking Saint-Cloud’s Listed Prix la Camargo.
“She had a bad race last time and was pulling too much,” Brandt said. “We will run her with a hood over in the states. She also needs a good pace and is not very big, which is why I think she can suit the track at Belmont. She has shown she’s a mentally strong filly and is very tough in the races. For me, I think the way American races go will suit her. She is calmer now than she was in her last run, so I hope she will travel well and like American racing. I hope we have an exciting race day and I’m looking forward to coming over.”
Francis-Henri Graffard-trained Know Thyself has kept solid company in her five starts, including a good fourth on debut last August behind subsequent Group 1 Poule d’Essai des Pouliches [French 1000 Guineas] winner Mangoustine at Deauville. Since then, the daughter of Galileo has finished fourth or better in three stakes, including a fourth in Hot Queen’s Prix la Camargo and finishing one better than that rival as runner-up in the Prix Vanteaux.
Owned by Craig Bernick, Know Thyself exits a third in the Listed Prix de la Seine behind Hidden Dimples and La Parisienne, with the latter going on to finish second in the Group 1 Prix de Diane [French Oaks] on June 19.
“Know Thyself is a nice filly that we think is on the improve,” Bernick said. “Her last race was a bit messy, as it was a small field with no pace and she was drawn wide and she was taken back. She made an early move and then kind of got lost in the middle of the track and we like to have a re-do. Coming out of that, we figured Belmont was a logical race for her. The form of her last run obviously looks good after the French Oaks. If Know Thyself wins, she will likely go back to France, but if not, she is likely to stay in the USA.”
The crème de la crème of the potential French contingent is arguably Rashit Shaykhutdinov’s Machete, a Fabrice Chappet trainee who descends from the same Myboycharlie-Galileo cross that begat triple NYRA Group 1 winner and 2017 Belmont Oaks runner-up Sistercharlie.
The homebred bay colt chased home Vadeni in his past two starts – a seventh in the French Derby on June 5 and second in Prix de Guiche, a head in front of Implementation. Earlier this season, Machete soundly defeated Implementation by two lengths in Chantilly’s Listed Prix Maurice Caillault over its flat all-weather course.
All Europeans are expected to ship and arrive on July 1.
American-based contenders for the Grade 1 Belmont Derby includes Head of Plains Partners’ Sy Dog, a homebred son of Slumber, who suffered his first career loss last out with a rallying third under Irad Ortiz, Jr. behind Stolen Base in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 American Turf on May 7 at Churchill Downs. The Graham Motion trainee was undefeated through his first three starts, including stakes victories in the Central Park at Aqueduct Racetrack and the Grade 3 Transylvania in April at Keeneland.
“I think it’s a great series. It’s going to be a very competitive race,” Motion said. “The timing was a little awkward for his last race. He’d run very well off a layoff and I was a little reluctant to run him back in a month, but with the spacing of the races it was the only choice I had. After that, we decided to give him plenty of time and I think he’ll appreciate more distance.
“I thought he ran well [in the American Turf] and obviously he was undefeated going into it, so it was kind of a big deal. He just needs more ground,” Motion continued. “It’s a bit of a tricky turf course and hard to gauge, but I specifically told Irad to ride him patiently that day, which he did. He came running, but it was just too little, too late.”
The Pletcher trio of graded stakes winners Annapolis, Emmanuel and Grand Sonata loom large.
A homebred for Bass Racing, Annapolis won the Grade 2 Pilgrim at Belmont last year before finishing second in the Grade 2 Penn Mile in his sophomore debut. WinStar Farm and Siena Farm’s Emmanuel finished third in the Grade 1 Blue Grass en route to a victorious turf debut last out in the Grade 2 Pennine Ridge, a win that waives his entry fee for the Belmont Derby.
Whisper Hill Farm’s homebred Grand Sonata won back-to-back stakes at Gulfstream Park this winter, taking the Dania Beach in January and the Grade 3 Kitten’s Joy in February. He followed in April with a runner-up effort to Sy Dog in the Grade 3 Transylvania at Keeneland ahead of a rallying third last out in the nine-furlong Audubon on June 4 at Churchill.
Multiple graded stakes-placed Limited Liability was last seen finishing third to Emmanuel in the Pennine Ridge for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey and owner/breeder Stuart S. Janney, III. He earned another pair of graded placings when third in both the Grade 3 With Anticipation and Grade 2 Pilgrim behind Annapolis last year.
Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown will have a chance to win his first Belmont Derby with graded stakes-placed Napoleonic War, who also will have his starting fees waived after finishing second to Emmanuel in the Pennine Ridge. A homebred for Peter Brant, Napoleonic War’s latest win was a May 5 optional claiming score at Belmont.
Three Diamonds Farm and Deuce Greathouse’s Stolen Base made the grade last out in the Grade 2 American Turf, overcoming a troubled trip to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Trained by Mike Maker, who won the 2019 Belmont Derby with Henley’s Joy, Stolen Base was also runner-up in the Grade 2 Bourbon in October at Keeneland.
Owner and trainer Ken McPeek plans for Tiz the Bomb to continue his sophomore campaign on turf after a ninth-place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 7. The Kentucky-bred has already amassed over $1 million in earnings and won the Grade 2 Bourbon in October and Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks over synthetic on April 2 at Turfway Park, defeating a field that included subsequent Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike.
A Brown-trained troika leads the locally-based hopes for the Belmont Oaks as the conditioner seeks a record sixth victory in the race. He will saddle Consumer Spending and McKulick for Klaravich Stables, along with Bradley Thoroughbreds, Belmar Racing and Breeding, Cambron Equine and Team Hanley’s Haughty.
Consumer Spending will have her entry fee waived after a victory in the Grade 2 Wonder Again on June 9 in her first graded stakes victory. Haughty was last seen winning the Penn Oaks on June 3 at Penn National in her first start since finishing third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in November at Del Mar. McKulick is still in search of her first graded coup after three consecutive placings, most recently finishing third in the Grade 3 Regret on June 4 at Churchill Downs.
David Bernsen and Schroeder Farms’ Cairo Memories has won two consecutive graded stakes for trainer Bob Hess when taking the Grade 3 Providencia and Grade 3 Honeymoon, both at Santa Anita Park. She earned a Grade 1 placing on dirt when second to Eda in the Starlet in December at Los Alamitos.
Cedar Hill homebred Myriskyaffair will also have her Belmont Oaks entry fee waived after she finished second to Consumer Spending in the Wonder Again last out in her graded stakes debut. Trained by Christophe Clement, Myriskyaffair has won or been runner-up in 4-of-5 lifetime starts.
The Brendan Walsh-trained New Year’s Eve boasts a 3-for-4 lifetime record and was a last-out winner of the Grade 2 Edgewood on May 6 at Churchill Downs for owner Marc Detampel. The daughter of Kitten’s Joy won her first two starts before finishing third in her stakes debut at Fair Grounds in the Allen Black Cat LaCombe Memorial.
McGaughey will saddle Andrew Rosen’s multiple graded-stakes placed homebred Skims in the Belmont Oaks. The Frankel bay has completed the trifecta in the Grade 2 Appalachian and Wonder Again in her last two outings.
Below are the invited competitors for the opening legs of the Caesars Turf Triple series. For additional information please visit https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/turf-triple-series.
G1 $1 million Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational
Aikhal (Aidan O’Brien), Annapolis (Todd Pletcher), Emmanuel (Todd Pletcher), Grand Sonata (Pletcher), Implementation (Pia Brandt), Limited Liability (Shug McGaughey), Machete (Fabrice Chappet), Napoleonic War (Chad Brown), Nations Pride (Charlie Appleby), Royal Patronage (Charles Johnston), Stolen Base (Mike Maker), Stone Age (Aidan O’Brien), Sy Dog (Graham Motion), Tiz the Bomb (Ken McPeek)
G1 $700K Belmont Oaks Invitational
Agartha (Joseph O’Brien), Cairo Memories (Bob Hess), Concert Hall (Aidan O’Brien), Consumer Spending (Chad Brown), Haughty (Chad Brown), Hot Queen (Pia Brandt), Know Thyself (Francis-Henri Graffard), McKulick (Chad Brown), Myriskyaffair (Christophe Clement), New Year’s Eve (Brendan Walsh), Skims (McGaughey), With The Moonlight (Charlie Appleby)
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Main photo by NYRA/Coglianese