ELMONT, N.Y. – A thrilling finish to the Saratoga Derby Invitational in August saw the top-five finishers separated by less than a length. The trifecta from that contest – Domestic Spending, Gufo and No Word – will engage again on Saturday as part of a talented nine-horse field of 3-year-olds going 1 1/4 miles on the inner turf in the Grade 1, $250,000 Belmont Derby Invitational.
The 71st running of the Belmont Derby is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier to the Grade 1, $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf on November 7 at Keeneland. It also is the headliner on a stacked card that features five graded stakes, including the Grade 1, $250,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic for 3-year-olds and up going 1 ½ miles on the Widener turf; the Grade 2, $150,000 Gallant Bloom for fillies and mares 3-year-olds and up sprinting 6 ½ furlongs on the main track; the Grade 2, $150,000 Kelso for 3-year-olds and up going one mile on Big Sandy and the Grade 2, $150,000 Pilgrim for juveniles contesting at 1 1/16 miles on the grass.
Otter Bend Stables’ Gufo ran second by a head to Domestic Spending in the 1 3/16-mile Saratoga Derby and will look to turn the tables in a rematch for trainer Christophe Clement. The Declaration of War colt has won four of his six career starts, with his third-place debut effort in November at Aqueduct marking his only other non-winning effort.
Gufo registered a four-race winning streak heading into his first Saratoga start, including a 1 1/2-length win in the English Channel in May at Gulfstream Park and followed by a rallying half-length score in the Grade 3 Kent going 1 1/8 miles on July 4 at Delaware Park.
Gufo breezed four furlongs in 50.25 seconds on Belmont’s inner turf Sunday with jockey Junior Alvarado aboard. Alvarado will have the call Saturday from post 2.
“Gufo went Sunday for his last work for the race and we’re very happy with him,” Clement said. “He’s been training very forwardly since the race at Saratoga. I had two choices; to run him here or go to Kentucky Downs. We trained for here because we think he’s an ideal horse to run at Belmont with the wider turns and the mile and a quarter will be really good for him.”
Klaravich Stables’ Domestic Spending was unraced as a juvenile but started his career with consecutive wins, breaking his maiden in February at Tampa Bay Downs at one mile before edging Don Juan Kitten by a neck in an allowance tilt in his first Belmont appearance on June 7.
The Chad Brown trainee stepped up to stakes company, running third behind the Clement-trained winner Decorated Invader in the Grade 2 Hall of Fame at 1 1/8 miles on July 18 at Saratoga. A month later, the English-bred son of Kingman earned his first stakes win and a career-best 93 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the Saratoga Derby.
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano will be in the irons from post 4.
Wertheimer and Frere’s No Word comprised the trifecta last out, just a half-length back to Gufo in the Saratoga Derby in his best stakes result. Trained by Todd Pletcher, No Word started his 3-year-old campaign with back-to-back third-place efforts before besting the field in an $80,000 optional claimer on July 9 at Belmont. Making his first stakes start as a sophomore, and first overall since running fifth in the Grade 3 Pilgrim in September 2019, No Word tallied a 92 Beyer for his stellar return to the Spa.
Jose Ortiz will ride from post 1.
Pletcher will also send out Repole Stable’s Mo Ready, a last-out allowance winner on August 15 at Saratoga. Making his graded stakes bow, the son of Uncle Mo will be running at Belmont for the first time since his fourth-place debut effort in May 2019. Kenrick Carmouche will be aboard and break from post 3.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott will saddle a pair of contenders who previously were on the Triple Crown trail in South Bend and Moon Over Miami.
Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable, Peter Deutsch and Pantofel Stable’s South Bend will be switching back to turf after running off the board in two prestigious Grade 1 dirt tests, running fourth in the Runhappy Travers on August 8 at Saratoga before finishing 15th in the Kentucky Derby on September 5 following a wide trip and tiring late.
But South Bend showed talent earlier in the campaign, running second in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby in June at Thistledown under previous trainer Stanley Hough. Before that, the Algorithms colt ran five consecutive times on the grass earlier in 2020, posting a runner-up effort in the Cutler Bay in March at Gulfstream Park and third-place efforts in the Dania Beach and the Grade 3 Palm Beach going a mile and 1 1/16 miles, respectively, on the Gulfstream turf.
“I don’t know that he’s any better on grass. The race he was in last time was just a really tough race,” Mott said. “He ran well in the Travers. He picked up a check and ran a pretty good race. I think he’s fine on dirt, it’s just the level of competition.”
Jockey Dylan Davis will pick up the mount for the first time, drawing post 5.
Summer Wind Equine’s Moon Over Miami won his first stakes last out with a half-length score in the Dueling Grounds Derby on September 10. Stretched out to 1 5/16 miles, the son of Malibu Moon tracked in 10th-of-12 position before a late surge edged him clear of Big Dreaming, earning a personal-best 91 Beyer.
Moon Over Miami ran in a Kentucky Derby prep race in his final dirt start on February 15, finishing eighth in a division of the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds. Mott moved him to turf next out, where he ran eighth in the Cutler Bay.
After earning his first win on grass in a 1 1/8-mile allowance tilt on June 20 at Churchill – the first of three straight races he’s worn blinkers – Moon Over Miami ran fourth in the Grade 2 Hall of Fame in July at Saratoga before his stakes win earlier this month. He will now return to Belmont for the first time since his fourth-place debut effort on Big Sandy in October 2019.
“He’ll be fit. The race comes back a little quick for him,” Mott said. “The timing isn’t ideal coming back from three and a half weeks. Generally, off a race like that, you would want a little more time, but this is one of the last straight 3-year-old races so we’re going to give it a shot.
“It seems like the blinkers have helped,” he added. “He just seemed to be getting a little distracted.”
Eric Cancel will ride from post 8.
Godolphin’s ultra-consistent Pixelate has never finished off the board in 11 starts [3-5-3] and has handled a step up in company, finishing second behind Gufo in the Grade 3 Kent before notching his first graded stakes score by outlasting Margot’s Boy by a head in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby going 1 1/8 miles on September 6.
Trained by Michael Stidham, Pixelate, a son of City Zip, ran second in his only previous Belmont start, finishing a neck behind Buy Land and See in the Awad last October.
“We’ve been really happy with his training,” Stidham said. “He’s raced at many different tracks with different riders and seems to always go out there and try hard, so we’re excited to run him in a Grade 1. He’s just an honest horse who goes out there and gives a big effort every single time.”
Jose Lezcano, the Belmont fall meet’s current leading rider, has the call from post 6.
Rounding out the field is Venezuelan Hug, who ran sixth in the Grade 2 Pennine Ridge in June at Belmont before coming back to best allowance company on August 9 at Saraoga, for trainer Danny Gargan [post 7, Manny Franco]; and Ajourneytofreedom, who will make his first start for trainer Mike Maker after running second in an $80,000 optional claiming turf contest on August 31 at Del Mar [post 9, Benjamin Hernandez].
The Belmont Derby is slated as Race 9 on Saturday’s 10-race program, which offers a first post of 12:40 p.m. Eastern. America’s Day at the Races will present daily television coverage of the fall meet on FOX Sports and MSG Networks. For the complete America’s Day at the Races broadcast schedule, and additional programming information, visit https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/tv-schedule.
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Photo: Domestic Spending. Credit: NYRA/Coglianese