ELMONT, N.Y. – Godolphin’s Irish homebred Nations Pride will look to continue a tremendous run of form in North America for trainer Charlie Appleby when he takes on an international field of 13 in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational, a 10-furlong inner turf test for sophomores at Belmont Park.
The Belmont Derby, slated for Race 9, along with the Grade 1, $700,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational in Race 7, top a loaded Stars and Stripes Racing Festival card, which also boasts the Grade 2, $400,000 Suburban, a 10-furlong handicap for older horses in Race 4; and the Grade 3, $150,000 Victory Ride, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for sophomore fillies in Race 8. First post on Saturday’s 11-race card is 1 p.m. Eastern.
The Belmont Derby, the first leg of the Caesars Turf Triple series, will be followed by 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.
Appleby made a splash last summer in New York with Althiqa and Summer Romance running one-two in both the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game at Belmont and the Grade 1 Diana at the Spa. He sent over Yibir in the fall to capture the Jockey Club Derby at Belmont ahead of a score in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar en route to Champion Turf Male honors. His Breeders’ Cup successes also included Space Blues in the Mile and Modern Games in the Juvenile Turf.
On Saturday, he will saddle Nations Pride, who exits an eighth-place finish in the 12-furlong Group 1 Epsom Derby on June 4 which came five weeks after a seven-length romp over subsequent Derby runner-up Hoo Ya Mal in the 10-furlong listed Newmarket Stakes.
Nations Pride had a four-race win streak snapped at Epsom, with his three previous wins all coming on flat courses at 10 furlongs, including a 3 1/4-length score in the 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.
Appleby said Nations Pride should appreciate firmer footing as he cuts back in distance.
“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.”
Frankie Dettori will have the call from post 10.
Internationally-acclaimed trainer Aidan O’Brien will be represented by the promising Stone Age, bred and co-owned by Peter Brant with Coolmore partners Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Westerberg.
The Galileo colt 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. Stone Age followed with an eye-catching score in the Group 3 Derby Trial at Leopardstown over 10 furlongs before finishing sixth last out in the 12-furlong Epsom Derby as the second choice.
O’Brien, who won this event last year with Bolshoi Ballet, also sent Deauville here to capture the 2016 renewal.
Ryan Moore, who guided Bolshoi Ballet to victory last year, will pilot Stone Age from post 13.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will be in search of a third Belmont Derby score following wins by Finality  and Take the Points  when he sends out graded-stakes winners Emmanuel and Grand Sonata.
The versatile colt made his first five starts on dirt, graduating in December at Gulfstream Park ahead of an optional-claiming win in January at Tampa Bay Downs. Emmanuel tried his luck on the Kentucky Derby trail, finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream ahead of a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland.
Pletcher said Emmanuel breezed well on the green ahead of his turf debut.
“He worked well on the turf and we felt like the Pennine Ridge was the logical place to give it a try. It was a good prep for the Belmont Derby,” Pletcher said. “He took to it and we’re happy to step it up and give it a try. I think the mile and a quarter should be within his scope.”
Whisper Hill Farm’s Kentucky-homebred Grand Sonata launched his campaign with a pair of stakes scores on the Gulfstream turf, capturing the one-mile Dania Beach on New Year’s Day and the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Kitten’s Joy in February. He returned in April to finish a close second to Belmont Derby-rival Sy Dog in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Transylvania before a deep-closing third last out in the nine-furlong Audubon on June 4 at Churchill Downs.
Pletcher said a wide run down the lane didn’t help Grand Sonata’s chance last out.
“That was kind of a tricky course to go wide on,” Pletcher said. “He didn’t get away well and was in a compromised position. But he ran well and he’s been very consistent.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will pilot Emmanuel from post 11, while Grand Sonata will emerge from post 5 under Tyler Gaffalione.
Owner and trainer Ken McPeek will saddle a pair of Kentucky Derby alumni in his Magdalena Racing’s Tiz the Bomb [post 9, Dylan Davis] and Kentucky West Racing and Clarke Cooper’s Kentucky-homebred Classic Causeway [post 4, Julien Leparoux].
Tiz the Bomb returns to turf after a ninth-place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs.
The Hit It a Bomb colt boasts wins on dirt, turf and synthetic and posted turf scores in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile in September and the Grade 2 Bourbon in October at Keeneland. He completed his 2-year-old season by rallying to finish second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in November at Del Mar.
The Kentucky-bred millionaire returned with an off-the-board effort in the Grade 3 Holy Bull in February over the Gulfstream Park dirt before taking both the John Battaglia Memorial in March and Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks in April over the Turfway Park synthetic, defeating a field that included subsequent Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike.
McPeek said Tiz the Bomb will relish the conditions.
“I think the further the better with him. He’s all class,” McPeek said. “A mile and a sixteenth has been easy enough for him but I think he should be able to get into a nice rhythm, and I think he’ll have a big shot in the race.
“He’s doing really well,” McPeek added. “He’s been training here in Kentucky on the grass all spring since the Derby and we’re excited to get him back on turf.”
Classic Causeway will make his turf debut in his second start for McPeek. The Giant’s Causeway chestnut captured the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis and Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby over the winter at Tampa Bay Downs before finishing 11th in both the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream and Grade 1 Kentucky Derby for his former conditioner Brian Lynch. He enters from a prominent third in the nine-furlong Grade 3 Ohio Derby on June 25 at Thistledown.
McPeek said the 10 furlongs should suit the typically forward Classic Causeway.
“He’s a horse that it seems like pace dictates his game. I think the pace in a mile and a quarter race will suit him better than the pace in a mile race,” McPeek said. “He’s a lovely horse to be around. It’s definitely a switch in his game, but we galloped him on the grass at Saratoga and he’s got a foot that I think will suit the turf.”
Stolen Base, trained by Mike Maker for Three Diamonds Farm and Deuce Greathouse, enters from a rallying 1 1/4-length score in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 American Turf on May 7 at Churchill Downs in which Sy Dog ran third.
The versatile colt is a winner on dirt and turf as well as stakes-placed on synthetic when a close second to returning rival Tiz the Bomb in the John Battaglia Memorial in March at Turfway Park.
Luis Saez will ride Stolen Base from post 2.
Royal Patronage, trained by Charles Johnston, enters from an off-the-board effort in the Epsom Derby. The Wootton Bassett bay defeated subsequent Group 1 2000 Guineas and Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes winner Coroebus in the one-mile 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 going seven furlongs at York.
He will exit post 8 under Joel Rosario.
Head of Plains Partners’ Sy Dog, by Slumber, won his first three career starts, including a nose score in the 1 1/16-mile Central Park in November at the Big A ahead of a closing three-quarter length win in the Grade 3 Transylvania. He was a rallying third last out in the Grade 2 American Turf.
Manny Franco will pilot Sy Dog from post 7.
Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown will send out the Peter Brant homebred Napoleonic War, who finished a game second to Emmanuel last out in the Pennine Ridge.
“He was pace compromised, but he ran well last time,” Brown said. “He finished up well. He’s probably looking for a mile and a quarter and so we’ll see if he can step up to this class level.”
The War Front bay was a troubled fourth to Sy Dog in the Transylvania ahead of a determined nose score in an optional-claimer here on May 5.
Napoleonic War will emerge from post 3 under Flavien Prat.
Abdullah Almaddah’s Implementation, a homebred son of Constitution trained by Pia Brandt, exits an even effort when last-of-4 in the one-mile Group 3 Prix Paul de Moussac at Chantilly over good-to-soft ground. One race prior, he was third in the nine-furlong Group 3 Prix de Guiche to subsequent Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club [French Derby] and Group 1 Coral-Eclipse winner Vadeni.
He will leave the inside post in rein to Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
Rashit Shaykhutdinov’s Machete, trained by Fabrice Chappet, chased home Vadeni in his past two starts – a seventh in the French Derby on June 5 and a second in the 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 at nine furlongs over its flat all-weather course.
He will emerge from post 6 under Stephane Pasquier.
Multiple graded stakes-placed Limited Liability [post 12, Jose Ortiz] 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.
Each of the 13 contenders are assigned 122 pounds.
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