June 7 (UPI) -- Belmont Park presents eight Grade I races on a single card Saturday including the Belmont Stakes, all of them legit top-shelf events, part of a three-day weekend extravaganza that also includes three Group II events and a pair of Group III's.
Three of the top-level races also are Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" events.
Ready to mix it up at Belmont are the likes of Thunder Snow, Mitole, McKinzie, Bricks and Mortar, Newspaperofrecord, Homerique, Channel Maker, World of Trouble, Midnight Bisou, Serengeti Empress and Rushing Fall.
Factor in the $500,000 (Canadian) Woodbine Oaks and the Grade III Old Forester Mint Julep on the Churchill Downs turf and it's one of the hottest weekends in North American racing that's not the Breeders' Cup World Championships.
On the international front, there's a Breeders' Cup Challenge race in Brazil. The 1 TAB Stradbroke Handicap is the biggest of three Group 1 races on the card at Eagle Farm in Brisbane, Australia. Con Te Partiro, an American expat, won her first Aussie start for trainers Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bolt and steps up in class for this. Things are quiet in England, Ireland and Europe in the lull between the Derby and the Royal Meeting at Ascot.
As always for the big races, if you can't be there in person, catch the action on Horse Racing Radio Network (horseracingradio.net). The Eclipse Award-winning lads will be live for 7 1/2 hours on Belmont Day. For analysis of the card, its HRRN's ace, Jude Feld, at popejude.com.
We consider the Belmont Stakes elsewhere, so let's start this with what promises to be the day's best race anyway.
This division isn't high on the list very often but, at least in terms of proven ability, Saturday's $1.2 million Grade I Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, aka the "Met Mile", is the best event of the weekend
Thunder Snow is in town and ready to rumble in Met Mile, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile. But with McKinzie, Mitole, Coal Front, Promises Fulfilled and Firenze Fire in the field, trainer Saeed bin Suroor has picked a tough spot for him to start a campaign pointed toward the Breeders' Cup Classic. The field of nine has aggregate earnings north of $25 million and 37 Grade I or Group 1 wins from 124 starts.
Winner of the past two Dubai World Cups and third in the 2018 Breeders' Cup Classic, Thunder Snow, a 5-year-old son of Helmet, has earned more than $16 million for Sheik Mohammed's Godolphin Racing -- although a lot of that was Sheik Mohammed's own money to begin with. He has not raced since the World Cup on March 30 and has not contested anything as short as a mile since January of 2018.
"Everything is going well and the horse is doing fine. He's ready to race," trainer Saeed bin Suroor said as the horse landed in New York Sunday. "This is a good place to start for him ... He will have an American campaign and we want to get him started. The Breeders' Cup Classic is the goal again this year."
McKinzie boasts the potent trainer-jockey duo of trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith. He drew the No. 2 gate and the silver-haired trainer was not pleased. "I was hoping to draw outside," Baffert said. "You got to get the right trip but he hasn't drawn well. He's always been inside." In fact, the 4-year-old Street Sense colt has drawn No. 1 in each of his last two starts, resulting in a second-place finish in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap and a win in the Grade II Alysheba. Before that, he'd never drawn lower than No. 4 and that was in a five-horse field. So, he's the 5-2 favorite on the morning line.
Not far back of that is Mitole, winner of six straight, most recently the Grade I Churchill Downs on Derby Day. Promises Fulfilled was fourth in that heat. Firenze Fire won the Runhappy Stakes at 6 furlongs over the Belmont strip May 11 but is 3-for-3 going the mile. Coal Front has won three in a row, most recently the Group 2 Godolphin Mile at Meydan on World Cup night, defeating some heavy international hitters.
The Belmont Stakes is the marquee race in this division but far from the only one.
Saturday's $150,000 Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont Park is 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-olds not ready for the Belmont's 12 panels. The morning-line favorite is Always Mining, winner of six straight on the Maryland circuit before finishing 11th when he hit the big time in the Preakness. He will have to deal with the other speed, Majid, starting just to his inside. Outshine finished second to Belmont Stakes favorite Tacitus in the Tampa Bay Derby but missed the start in the Wood Memorial, finished up the track and hasn't been seen since. There are a few other Triple Crown refugees and our eye keeps coming back to Grumps Little Tots. Maybe it's just the name.
The oddsmaker couldn't do much to clarify things for Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Woodford Reserve Brooklyn Invitational for 4-year-olds and up at 12 furlongs. Neither can we. The nominal favorite, at 3-1 on the line, is You're to Blame, one of four who has won at the distance. The muddled nature of the event is illustrated in the case of Sonneteer, who went into a 1 1/2-mile race at Churchill Downs on April 30 with only two wins from 24 previous starts and won by 7 1/4 lengths.
Midnight Bisou is 3-for-3 since finishing a close-up third in last year's Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff and that's good enough to make her the even-money, morning-line favorite for Saturday's $700,000 Grade I Ogden Phipps Stakes for fillies and mares at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for this year's Distaff. The 4-year-old Midnight Lute filly, trained by Steve Asmussen, will have to deal with only four rivals. But one of those is Escape Clause, a 5-year-old, Manitoba-bred daughter of the unheralded Going Commando who fell only a nose short of holding off Midnight Bisou in the Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park in her last start. Come Dancing has been impressive of late and has speed from the inside gate.
Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress reappears in Saturday's $700,000 Grade I Acorn at Belmont Park, a 1-mile affair for 3-year-old fillies. Trainer Tom Amoss has been careful in handling the daughter of Alternation since she bled in the Fair Grounds Oaks. She did post a quality work on June 1, going 4 furlongs in 47 4/5 seconds, fifth-best of 86. She has the rail, no problem for a speedster. Florida-bred Cookie Dough could provide some pace pressure. And newcomer Guarana is intriguing. The Ghostzapper filly, trained by Chad Brown for owner-breeder Three Chimneys Farm, comes off a 14 3/4-lengths win in her only previous start, earning a 93 Beyer Speed Figure. That was in the slop, going 6 1/2 furlongs against maidens, so we'll see what we see.
Saturday's $1 million Grade I Manhattan at Belmont Park has some of the heaviest of U.S. turf heavyweights -- Bricks and Mortar, Qurbaan, Olympico and Channel Maker.
Trainer Chad Brown, whose name will pop up frequently in the subsequent discussion, fields four of the 10 starters in the Manhattan, chief among them the 7-5 morning-line favorite, Bricks and Mortar, winner of the Grade I Turf Classic in his last start and the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January. Brown also has Olympico, who won his first U.S. start last month after racing in France; Robert Bruce, winner of the Grade I Arlington Million in 2018 and many Group 1 events in his native Chile; and Raging Bull, winner of the Grade I Hollywood Derby last year.
Qurbaan was only 1/2 length back of Bricks and Mortar while finishing second in the Turf Classic and returns for another go at it. And Channel Maker, eighth in this last year but beaten only 1 1/2 lengths for it all, comes off a smashing win in the Grade I Man o' War over the course.
The winner of the Manhattan logically could claim leadership of a division that has lacked one for quite a while, now. If it's Bricks and Mortar, the next step would be to Chicago. "When we set his campaign in motion, we were hoping to hit the races we have so far," Brown said. "We haven't really planned beyond the Arlington Million, but that would be his next goal after the Manhattan if he is still training well."
Friday's $400,000 Grade II Belmont Gold Cup Invitational at 2 miles was bound to attract some international attention and, sure enough, here they come. Trainer Hugo Palmer brings Mootasadir, a Dansili colt who has toiled in England and Ireland, winning at the Group 3 level. Amade arrives from across the pond, where he has won seven of 12 starts in the relative minor leagues in France and England but finished second behind Watersmeet in the Betway All-Weather Marathon Championship at Lingfield on Good Friday. Raa Atoll, trained in England, was last seen winning a Group 2 event at Hoppegarten in Germany. Among the locals, Arklow won last summer going 1 1/2 miles at Kentucky Downs and finished second in the 1 3/8-miles Man o' War in his most recent start. The others appear to be hoping something good will happen.
Filly & Mare Turf
Rushing Fall is the odds-on favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $700,000 Grade I Longines Just a Game Stakes for fillies and mares at Belmont Park. The More Than Ready filly, trained by Chad Brown, has seven wins and one second from eight starts and cuts back from victories at 9 furlongs in the Grade I QE II Cup last fall at Keeneland and 1 1/16 miles in the Grade I Jenny Wiley over the same layout. It's a solid field, though. Six of the seven are graded stakes winners and the one who is not is Environs, a Juddmonte Farms homebred making her third start for Brown after racing in France. Watch for Beau Recall and Daddy Is a Legend to be flying late.
Newspaperofrecord, winner of the 2018 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, makes her second start of the year in Thursday's $200,000 Grade III Wonder Again Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park. The Irish-bred daughter of Lope De Vega wilted in the stretch run of the Grade III Edgewood Stakes at Churchill Downs on Oaks Day, finishing second to Concrete Rose. Also looking to reverse her fortunes is Chocolate Kisses. The Candy Ride filly won the Grade III Honeybee at Oaklawn Park this spring but then made no impression in the Grade I Ashland at Keeneland or the Kentucky Oaks. Newspaperofrecord's trainer, the aforementioned Chad Brown, also has the promising Cambier Parc and the other three are recent maiden winners.
If Friday's $600,000 Grade II New York Stakes at Belmont Park is on the turf, and it is, it's no surprise Chad Brown will saddle two, including the winner of the Grade I American Oaks at Santa Anita last December, Competition of Ideas. The other is Homerique, who defeated Competitionofideas in the Grade III Beaugay May 11 in her first U.S. start following an impressive 3-year-old campaign in France. That included third-place showings in the Group 1 Prix de Diane Longines and the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera Longines. Either or both of these could be a major force in the division all this season and beyond. First, they have to get by Friday rivals Holy Helena, Vexatious, Semper Sententiae and Giant Zinger.
Back in the Bluegrass: Limari and Mom's on Strike are the morning-line favorites in Saturday's $125,000 Grade III Old Forester Mint Julep for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs. Limari, a Medaglia d'Oro filly, arrives with a four-race winning streak, three at Fair Grounds and the most recent up the road at Keeneland. Mom's On Strike, a 6-year-old mare, hasn't won since April of 2018 but has been running against tougher company.
Saturday's $400,000 Jaipur Invitational at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, features World of Trouble as the even-money favorite. The 4-year-old Kantharos colt has won six of his last seven starts, missing only by a neck to Stormy Liberal in the last year's Breeders' Cup. He's finished out of the money only once in 12 trips to the track and that was almost exactly a year ago when he reported fourth in the Grade II Woody Stephens after being hooked in a speed duel going 7 furlongs. The field also includes Belvoir Bay, second to Europe's star sprinter, Blue Point, in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night, and Disco Partner, third in the 2018 Breeders' Cup.
Chad Brown fields three of the 10 entered for Thursday's $200,000 Grade III Intercontinental for fillies and mares at Belmont Park. Significant Form, a 4-year-old Creative Cause filly, makes her first start since November. She was fourth in last year's Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational. Zonza was a Group 3 winner in France last season and fourth in her U.S. debut at Keeneland in April. Stella di Camelot also raced in France, won the Pebbles Stakes at Belmont in her first start on these shores and comes off a layoff. Also looking to find their U.S. bearings are German invader Binti Al Nar and Raven's Lady, formerly raced in England. Looks like a pretty wide-open race.
Mind Control is posted as the morning-line favorite among 11 in Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Woody Stephens Presented by Mohegan Sun for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park. The Stay Thirsty colt has missed an exacta finish only once in seven trips -- that when he was pinched back at the break in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He hasn't been seen since winning the Grade III Bay Shore in April and trainer Greg Sacco has had him squirreled away down the shore at Monmouth Park.
The rest of the field for the Woody Stephens is a fascinating mix of horses whose connections once had Triple Crown aspiration and a few late bloomers. Honest Mischief fits the latter description after two outstanding efforts at Keeneland for Chad Brown. In the former category: Much Better was second in the Bay Shore while Complexity won the Grade I Champaign over the course in October but then finished 10th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after a rough start and hasn't raced since.
Looking at Friday's $250,000 Grade II True North Stakes at Belmont: Whitmore was third in this in 2017 and second last year and tries to improve one more notch. The Oaklawn Park specialist was fifth in the Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby Day while exiting Hot Springs. The opposition includes Catalina Cruiser, undefeated until his finished sixth in last year's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and unraced since then, recent Grade III Westchester Stakes winner Nicodemus, Grade III Tom Fool Handicap winner Do Share and the always-tough Recruiting Ready.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Friday's $250,000 Grade III Bed o' Roses Invitational at Belmont Park features Chalon, the runner-up in the all-long shot trifecta finish of last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. The 5-year-old Dialed In mare prepped with a win in the Skipat Stakes at Pimlico May 17. Pacific Gale enters after finishing second in three of her last four starts, all Grade III events. Chad Brown brings Separationofpowers, winner of the Grade I Test Stakes at Saratoga last summer but winless in two intervening races. She may have found a cozy spot to return to winning ways.
Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Hendrie Stakes for fillies and mares on the Woodbine all-weather course has eight. Well-fancied is Katie Baby, who enters off a five-lengths victory as the odds-on favorite in a Woodbine allowance.
Friday's $150,000 Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park, 5 1/2 furlongs, has a field of eight. Among many maiden winners is the Wesley Ward-trained Maven, a first-crop son of American Pharoah and a winner in a hard-fought contest in his only previous start. Ward also saddles Dixie Mo, an Uncle Mo filly who won at first asking at Indiana Grand. Rookie Salsa, a Two Step Salsa colt, might get the nod with a record of 2-for-2, including the Kentucky Juvenile during Derby week at Churchill Downs.
Thursday's $150,000 Astoria at Belmont Park attracted nine 2-year-old fillies to tackle 5 1/2 furlongs. Mark Casse and Wesley Ward train two each and Todd Pletcher has Sneaky Surprise. The most experienced is Twirling Owen, a Twirling Candy filly trained by Anthony Farrior, who won at first asking at Laurel Park in April, then was sixth in the Kentucky Juvenile on May Day.
Also on the weekend card:
Ten Canadian-foaled 3-year-old fillies signed up for Saturday's $500,000 (Canadian) Woodbine Oaks with Bold Script and Speedy Soul getting the marquee positions on the morning line. Bold Script, a Speightstown filly, has missed a top-three finish only once and has been running with credit in graded stakes. Speedy Soul, by Super Speedy, is 3-for-4.
Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Plate Trial for Canadian-foaled 3-year-olds has nine. The 9-5 favorite is Federal Law, a Scat Daddy colt trained by Mark Casse who started his career in England.
In addition to the three Breeders' Cup Challenge races on Saturday at Belmont Park, Sunday's Group 1 Gran Premio Brasil at Gavea in Rio De Janeiro offers a berth into the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, will be held at Gavea in Rio De Janeiro on Sunday. It's 1 1/2 miles on the grass.
Saturday's Group 1 TAB Stradbroke Handicap at 1,400 meters is the feature on an Eagle Farm program including two other top-level events. The full field looks relatively wide open with The Bostonian, Home of the Brave, Trekking and Widgee Turf mentioned favorably. Tactical Advantage would be dangerous if he drew in.