O’Brian’s Bolshoi Ballet, Belmont Derby winner and Santa Barbara, Belmont Oaks winner, both possible for Breeders’ Cup

July 12, 2021

ELMONT, N.Y. – The luck of the Irish was present at Belmont Park on Saturday when Irish-breds Santa Barbara and Bolshoi Ballet captured their respective 10-furlong first legs of the Turf Triple series for champion trainer Aidan O’Brien and Coolmore partners Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Westerberg. 

Santa Barbara won the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational after some anxious moments around the far turn and into the stretch. Expertly piloted by jockey Ryan Moore, Santa Barbara saved ground between horses down the backstretch, but lacked racing room at the top of the stretch. Approaching the furlong marker, she angled into the clear and displayed a devastating turn-of-foot going from seventh to first in the final two points of call. The half-length victory garnered a 90 Beyer Speed Figure. 

Two races later, the all navy blue Coolmore colors found prosperity once more when Bolshoi Ballet backed up his heavy favoritism in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby. The beaten favorite last out in the Group 1 Epsom Derby on June 5 saw redemption by making a wide, sweeping move at the top of the stretch under Moore to win by 1 ¼ lengths. 

Bolshoi Ballet and Santa Barbara will head back to Ballydoyle Training Center in Ireland on Sunday evening, where further plans will be evaluated. 

“They both ate up well last night and left nothing. They walked this morning and are a hundred percent,” said O’Brien’s travelling assistant T.J. Comerford. “They’ll head home tonight, but they’re in good shape after running.”

Comerford said that a start in the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships on November 6 at Del Mar is possibly in play for both horses. 

Santa Barbars winning the Belmont Oaks (Chelsea Durand).

Santa Barbara would likely target the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, while Bolshoi Ballet would be a candidate for the Grade 1, $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf – which O’Brien has won six times. 

“That’s the plan for them both,” Comerford said. “Wherever they go next is another thing, but now that they had a bit of practice coming over here, it will be easier the next time.”

The second legs of the Turf Triple for sophomore fillies are the Grade 1, $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational on August 7 and the Grade 3, $700,000 Saratoga Oaks Invitational on August 8. Comerford said while both races have not been ruled out for either horse, they would be more likely to campaign in Europe before heading back to the United States for the Breeders’ Cup. 

“It’s probably an option, but now that they have it done, maybe we’ll find some other horses to come to Saratoga with,” Comerford said. “I’m sure we’ll have something – maybe not these two – but Aidan will decide.”

Comerford said both Santa Barbara and Bolshoi Ballet have been highly regarded horses for O’Brien from the get-go. 

“He brought two very good horses this time,” Comerford said. “The filly was favored in the Guineas and finished third. The colt was favored in the Derby, he just didn’t get to running. The ground didn’t come up the way we had hoped, but he took his chance. He did get galloped well into behind, but he came out of it very well.”

Santa Barbara, a daughter of 2012 Epsom and Irish Derby winner Camelot, arrived at the Belmont Oaks off three straight starts at Group 1 caliber, the most recent of which was a narrow defeat to older filly Thundering Nights in the Group 1 Pretty Polly at the Curragh, just 13 days before the Belmont Oaks. A similar route was taken with 2018 Belmont Oaks victress Athena, who won off six days rest when third in that year’s Pretty Polly. 

Prior to the Pretty Polly, she was a respective fourth and fifth in the British 1000 Guineas on May 2 at Newmarket and the Epsom Oaks on June 4 at Epsom Downs. 

“In fairness to her, her last three races were top class Group 1 races so she had plenty of experience,” said Comerford. “She showed in the Oaks that she had a good turn of foot, even though they were going steady. Ryan never hit her. Even after the race, he said it was the easiest winner he’s ridden.”

Breeders’ Cup victories has been a family tradition for Santa Barbara, whose half-siblings Order of Australia and Iridessa captured the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile and 2019 Filly and Mare Turf, respectively. Santa Barbara’s grand dam, Starine, won the 2002 Filly and Mare Turf for late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel. 

“She’s starting to progress like him [Order of Australia] and Iridessa,” Comerford said. “She’s starting to go along the same lines as them. She’s just getting better. The next time she’ll be a lot more streetwise again. It was only her fifth start.”

Prior to the Epsom Derby, Bolshoi Ballet registered two Group 3 victories at Leopardstown going the Belmont Derby distance. Comerford said a mile and a half is easily within the athletic colt’s ability. 

“If it were a mile and a half yesterday, he would have won further,” Comerford said. “He wants a mile and a quarter, but a mile and a half isn’t a problem to him either.”

A victory in the Belmont Derby came on the same day as the passing of Bolshoi Ballet’s internationally acclaimed sire Galileo, who captured the Epsom Derby, Irish Derby and King George & Queen Elizabeth Diamond, all Group 1, in 2001. 

“There are going to be other Galileo horses that come along, but we were fortunate to win yesterday,” Comerford said. “He’s proven to be a decent horse and we’ve always thought a lot of him.” 

NYRA Press Office

Top Photo: Bolshoi Ballet winning the Belmont Oaks, (Chelsea Durand)

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