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Belmont Stakes, English and French derbies point to great racing to come

By
Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Snowfall, with Frankie Dettori smiling broadly, romps to a 16-lengths win in the Cazoo Oaks on Friday at Epsom Downs. Photo courtesy of The Jockey Club
Snowfall, with Frankie Dettori smiling broadly, romps to a 16-lengths win in the Cazoo Oaks on Friday at Epsom Downs. Photo courtesy of The Jockey Club

June 7 (UPI) -- The Triple Crown trail was long, chaotic and sometimes controversial, but after Essential Quality's dramatic victory in the Belmont Stakes, it ended with the promise of great things to come.

Some of those great things, no doubt, are coming to Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Goldolphin empire, which not only won the Belmont with Essential Quality but a few hours earlier in England won the original Derby -- the one on Epsom Downs.

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It was a super weekend, too, for the other global racing superpower, Ireland's Coolmore, which tucked away trophies from the French Derby and the Oaks at Epsom.

And for fans, the weekend action at Belmont Park was as good as any non-Breeders' Cup with star after star taking the track. That was no surprise with a clutch of Breeders' Cup performers involved and three spots in this year's Championships on the line -- albeit one of them in Japan.

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Let's have a look.

Classic

There have been plenty of great 3-year-old rivalries through the decades -- Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, Secretariat and Sham and others -- and the showdown between Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie in Saturday's $1.5 million Grade I Belmont Stakes promises to add to those legends.

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Hot Rod Charlie finished second to Essential Quality in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, finished third to Essential Quality's fourth in the Kentucky Derby and yielded only grudgingly in the Belmont after leading much of the 1 1/2 miles.

Even if they didn't realize it, the connections of both horses were well into championship "spin" after the Belmont, with both trainers indicating the Grade I Travers, the "Midsummer Derby" on Aug. 25 at Saratoga could be their next start.

"Our horse told us today that he's a gamer," said Hot Rod Charlie's trainer, Doug O'Neill, after the Belmont. "He got pushed. He did all the dirty work. Essential Quality ran a huge race and I think Charlie showed he was trying every step of the way from gate to wire. He just couldn't hold off a champ."

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Jimmy Bell, head of Godolphin's U.S. operations, emphasized the importance of a series of races in determining a championship.

"We were so fortunate to have another opportunity [after the Derby]," said Jimmy Bell, president of Godolphin USA. "He has never run a bad race in his life and I think he showed today he met the test of a champion.

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"To do what he did as a 2-year-old and come through these races as a 3-year-old with the mile-and-a-half Classic, it's a great tribute to him."

So while the controversy about drug tests drags on and the also-rans regroup, fans will be flocking back to the stands at tracks around the country to see how all of this plays out -- right where attention belongs -- on the track.

"I think it would be great for racing, no doubt about it," Essential Quality's trainer, Brad Cox, said of an ongoing rivalry between the Belmont top two finishers.

Older horses also were in action at the 1 1/2-mile distance of the Belmont on Saturday over the same track. Lone Rock raced with the leaders early in the $400,000 Grade II Brooklyn Stakes, launched his bid at the quarter pole and was gone with a furlong left, eventually winning by 11 1/4 lengths.

Tizamagician tried to go with him early in the stretch run but settled for second, 1 length in front of Moretti. Belmont originally announced the winning time for the 1 1/2 mile as 2:25.23, which would have been just 1.23 second shy of Secretariat's record but later revised that to 2:28.97.

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Lone Rock was claimed three times during 2020, twice by current trainer Robertino Diodoro. He now has four wins and a second since that last claim.

Distaff

Letruska again staked a claim to leadership of this division with a front-running, 2 3/4-lengths score in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park.

The 5-year-old Super Saver mare dueled to the lead, opened up a 5-lengths advantage and was not threatened thereafter. Bonny South was along to edge 2020 Kentucky Oaks winner Shedaresthedevil for second.

Letruska finished 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.25. Irad Ortiz Jr. was to have ridden but is sidelined with an injury suffered Thursday. His brother, Jose, subbed in the Phipps.

Trained by Fausto Gutierrez, Letruska scored her fifth win from her last six starts and earned a "Win and You're In" berth in the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff.

"She has this class to her," Gutierrez said of Letruska. "She really likes to run.

"Now we need to focus on the Breeders' Cup with the form that we have."

Also Saturday at Belmont, Search Results, the odds-on favorite, rallied to the lead in the stretch in the $500,000 Grade I Acorn for 3-year-old fillies and held on to win by 1/2 length.

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Obligatory came with a rush outside rivals in the final furlong to finish second. Make Mischief, the longest shot in the five-filly field, was third. Search Results, a Flatter filly, completed the one-turn mile in 1:35.50 with Javier Castellano subbing in the irons for the injured Irad Ortiz Jr.

Search Result has lost only once in five career starts -- that a second in the Kentucky Oaks, where she missed by just a neck to division leader Malathaat.

"I'm just so proud of her to come back in five weeks after a real dog fight with Malathaat," winning trainer Chad Brown said.

"To bounce right back and lay it on the line again, this filly has so much talent and so much heart. She's a very rare kind of horse to have, and we're so lucky to have her."

He's also lucky to have Altaf, who surged to the lead in the stretch run in Sunday's $100,000 Lady's Secret at Monmouth Park and kept running to a 2 1/2-lengths victory as the odds-on favorite. Gibberish was second, 3 1/4 lengths in front of Landing Zone.

Altaf, a 4-year-old Shadwell homebred filly by Medaglia d'Oro, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.64 with Dylan Davis in the irons.

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Dirt Mile

Silver State took back and saved ground around the one turn of Saturday's $1 million Grade II Hill 'N' Dale Metropolitan Handicap -- the Met Mile -- at Belmont Park, found the rail wide open at the top of the stretch, ran through and went on to win by 1 length over By My Standards.

Mischevious Alex was third and the odds-on favorite, Knicks Go, faded from the lead to finish fourth in his first start since a similar result in the $20 million Saudi Cup in February.

Silver State scored his seventh straight win while coming off a victory in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap April 17, finishing in 1:35.45 over a fast track with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons. Steve Asmussen trains the 4-year-old Hard Spun colt.

"This horse takes a step forward with every race," Asmussen said. "We built it up to this point. To be in this position today will give him the credit he deserves. That's the great part about racing. You have to earn it. That's what he did today. The Met Mile was our target since last fall."

Turf

Turf maestro Chad Brown has another hot commodity on his hands in Domestic Spending. The British-bred, 4-year-old Kingman gelding notched his sixth win from seven starts in Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Resorts World Casino Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park.

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Domestic Spending, with Flavien Prat up, rallied from well back, caught pacesetting Brown barnmate Tribhuvan at mid-stretch and went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Tribhuvan held second, 1 1/4 lengths better than Gufo.

Domestic Spending earned his third straight Grade I win while going 1 1/4 miles for the first time in an impressive time of 1:59.08.

Brown said he's reluctant to compare Domestic Spending to his 2019 Horse of the Year, Bricks and Mortar, who also won the Manhattan, because "it rarely ever works that way. But boy, he's on his way. It's certainly looking that way.

"He's gotten stronger and is going farther than we thought when he was a younger horse, like Bricks and Mortar. He just keeps progressing along. I'm so proud of him."

He said Domestic Spending, as did Bricks and Mortar, will move along to what used to be the Arlington Million, this year the $600,000 Mr. D.

Baron Samedi came running in the stretch drive of Friday's $400,000 Grade II Belmont Gold Cup, blitzed to the lead and went on to win the 2-miles event by 2 3/4 lengths.Fantasioso was second, followed by Ajourneyoffreedom.

Baron Samedi, a British-bred, 4-year-old gelding by Harbour Watch, was clocked in 3:27.30 with John Velazquez up. The Joseph Patrick O'Brien trainee got his seventh straight win in by far his sternest test -- at least on paper.

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O'Brien, son of Aidan O'Brien, said, "We don't have any plans to send horses in the immediate future to America but we have entries later in the season and it will certainly be a possibility."

Brown doubled up on his Saturday success as Devamani followed the early pace in the $156,000 Grade III Monmouth Stakes "down the shore", got by and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Winters Back, the early leader, held second with Corelli a further 3/4 lengths back in third.

Devamani, a 7-year-old, French-bred gelding by Dubawi, ran 1 1/8 miles on good turf in 1:48.90 with Nik Juarez in the irons.

Filly & Mare Turf

Mean Mary took the early lead in Friday's $750,000 Grade II New York Stakes, opened up a daylight lead and then just did hold off Irish invader Thundering Nights at the wire. My Sister Nat and Virginia Joy, the two saddled by Chad Brown, finished third and fourth.

Mean Mary, a 5-year-old Scat Daddy mare, got 1 1/4 miles on yielding turf in 2:04.68 with Luis Saez aboard.

Mean Mary won the 2020 New York by 5 1/2 lengths and came to this off a win in the Grade III Galorette at Pimlico. Thundering Nights, trained by Joseph Patrick O'Brien, was a Group 3 winner in Ireland last season.

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Winning trainer Graham Motion said his choices now are the $500,000 Grade I Diana July 17 at Saratoga or the $400,000 Grade I Beverly D. on Aug. 14 at Arlington, adding, "The Diana has not been kind to me. But we'll see."

Turf Mile

Most days, even the most successful owners and trainers would be ecstatic with a 1-2 finish in a prestigious $500,000 Grade I race like Saturday's Longines Just a Game Stakes for fillies and mares at Belmont Park.

For Godolphin, though, that was just No. 3 on the day's accomplishments list, following Adayar's victory in the Cazoo Derby at Epsom and preceding Essential Quality's dramatic triumph in the Belmont Stakes.

Althiqa, with Mike Smith up, tracked down pacesetting Godolphin stablemate Summer Romance in the stretch run of the 1-mile Just a Game and was along to win by 3/4 length. Daddy is a Legend was third, another 1 3/4 lengths back. Althiqa, a 4-year-old Dark Angel filly, reported in 1:33.90.

Sophie Chretien, traveling assistant to trainer Charlie Appleby, said things in the barn "were not easy" after UAE Derby winner Rebel's Romance was forced out of the Belmont with a leg infection "and we had to stay focused on our two fillies. They both have big hearts and I know they had a chance to run big."

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"Everything turned out great. Sometime after the bad, you have the good, and here it is," Chretien said.

Summer Romance and Althiqa finished first and third, respectively, in their previous start, the Group 2 Balanchine Stakes at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai on Feb. 18. Like both Adayar and Essential Quality, Althiqa is a Godolphin homebred.

Turf Sprint

Casa Creed rallied from last of nine to prevail by 2 lengths in Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Jackpot Jaipur Stakes. The 5-year-old son of Jimmy Creed, with Junior Alvarado riding, had to come six-wide around rivals to get the job done.

Chewing Gum was second at a big price and the even-money favorite, Bound for Nowhere, tired from the lead to finish third.

Casa Creed finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.04 It was his second straight win sprinting over the Belmont turf. The race was a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint in November.

"He's versatile," trainer Bill Mott said of Casa Creed. "He's been unlucky with races but he's always been hard knocking. He gets beat, but gets beat trying against really nice horses. We started figuring it out these past couple of races. He showed today that he's a serious sprinter."

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At Churchill Downs on Saturday, Just Might got quickly to the lead in the $110,000 Mighty Beau Stakes and maintained the lead to the finish, winning by 1 length over Classy John.

The favorite, Carotari, checked in third. Just Might, a 5-year-old Justin Phillip gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.33 seconds for jockey Colby Hernandez.

Sunday at Santa Anita, jockey Flavien Prat obviously found the answer as Whatmakessammyrun rallied from last of six to win the $102,000 Desert Code Stakes for 3-year-olds by 3 3/4 lengths. Mohawk King was second and the early leader, Love My Jimmy, held on for third.

Whatmakessammyrun, a We Miss Artie colt, ran 6 furlongs on firm turf in 1:08.08.

Sprint

Firenze Fire showed the way in Friday's $300,000 Grade II True North Stakes at Belmont Park with Flagstaff in close pursuit. Charging down the stretch, Firenze Fire began to edge away and eventually won by 1 1/2 lengths as the nearly even-money favorite. Flagstaff held second, 2 1/4 lengths better than American Power.

Firenze Fire, a 6-year-old son of Poseidon's Warrior, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a track upgraded from muddy to good in 1:15.52 with Jose Ortiz subbing for his brother, Irad Ortiz Jr., who was injured Thursday. Firenze Fire also won the True North last year.

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Winning trainer Kelly Breen identified the $250,000 Grade II John A. Nerud, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" qualifier July 4 at Belmont, as Firenze Fire's next target.

In Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Woody Stephens Stakes for 3-year-olds, Drain the Clock chased down pacesetting favorite Jackie's Warrior in the closing strides, winning by a neck.

It was another 7 1/4 lengths back to Nova Rags in third. Drain the Clock, a Maclean's Music colt, ran 7 furlongs on a good track -- upgraded to fast before the next race -- in 1:22.27 with Jose Ortiz subbing for his injured brother, Irad Ortiz Jr.

Drain the Clock has lost only twice in eight starts -- once when he lost his rider due to an equipment failure and then when second in the Grade II Fountain of Youth when he was asked to go 1 1/16 miles.

Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said he had no regrets about abandoning the Kentucky Derby dream with Drain the Clock. "Would he have won? Probably not," he said. "That's stretching him. After that, it was just cut back. We figured let's have a good horse at one turn."

Filly & Mare Sprint

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Estilo Talentoso rallied way outside her rivals heading for home in Friday's $300,000 Grade III Bed o' Roses Stakes at Belmont Park, then outfinished Lake Avenue, winning by a neck over that one.

Bayerness was third as Estilo Talentoso ran 7 furlongs on the sloppy track in 1:22.96 under Javier Castellano. The 4-year-old Maclean's Music filly had two wins and two seconds in her four previous starts for trainer Juan Arriagada.

Trainer Brad Cox's excellent weekend continued Sunday at Belmont Park as Australasia rallied from last of five to win the $150,000 Jersey Girl Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 1 length over Bella Sofia, remaining undefeated after six starts.

The odds-on favorite, Miss Brazil, who was scratched from the Acorn in favor of this presumably easier spot, led briefly but settled for third. Australasia, a Sky Kingdom filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.19 with Joel Rosario up.

Juvenile

After winning Thursday's Astoria Stakes by 11 1/2 lengths with Happy Soul, trainer Wesley Ward completed a sweep of the weekend's juvenile events as Overbore rallied from last of four to win Friday's $150,000 Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park.

Despite the short field, there was a bit of roughhousing in the running of the 5 1/2 furlongs. Overbore was bumped from both sides coming out of the gate and jockey Joel Rosario had to take up. He swung wide around the rivals turning into the stretch and was up to win by 3/4 length.

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Kavod and Trust Our Journey were second and third, respectively, with early leader Baytown Frosty fourth and last.

Overbore, a Speightstown colt, got 5 1/2 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:05.44, scoring his first win after finishing third in his debut at Keeneland, a race won by Baytown Frosty, then second at Churchill Downs.

Around the world, around the clock:

England and France

Two of the top global racing combines split the spoils in weekend Classics as Coolmore's Snowfall and St Mark's Basilica took the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom and the Qatar Prix du Jockey Club or French Derby at Chantilly while Godolphin's Adayar upset the Cazoo Derby.

Snowfall's victory in the Oaks arguably was the most imposing of those effort and not just because of her 16-lengths margin of victory under an ecstatic Frankie Dettori.

The filly is by the late Japanese superstar sire Deep Impact out of the Galileo mare Best in the World -- a pedigree that represents a jackpot for anyone's breeding effort. Yes, even Coolmore's.

"It was like a hot knife through butter," Dettori said. Asked for context, he said, "Enable probably ... It was like an Arazi moment."

The references were to the recently retired dual Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner who was a Dettori favorite, and Arazi, whose 1991 Breeders' Cup Juvenile victory under Patrick Valenzuela electrified the racing world.

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Asked if Snowfall now joins Coolmore's top older mare, Love, as an Arc candidate, trainer Aidan O'Brien said, "Absolutely. ... I didn't really think she wanted a mile and a half but, looking at that, she gets it unreal, doesn't she? As she's gone up in trip, the more impressive she's become."

It was a different story entirely a day later on the Epsom Downs as Godolphin long shot Adayar saved ground behind the early leaders through the first mile of the Cazoo Derby, found room along the rail in the stretch run and got clear to win by 4 1/2 lengths.

Mojo Star, an even longer chance, was second with another Godolphin long shot, Hurricane Lane, third. The favorite and Coolmore's only runner, Bolshoi Ballet, had every chance rounding Tattenham corner but retreated to finish seventh.

Godolphin also had One Ruler, who finished sixth and trainer Charlie Appleby said, "The thing about three horses -- all three were fit and well and the conversation was, do we want to run all three in here or do we want to move the puzzle around slightly?

"I had the conversation on Wednesday evening with his Highness [Sheik Mohammed] about the three horses in contention for today and I put it up there that Adayar would be more of a staying horse.

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"Thankfully, he put me straight back where I should be and he said, 'No, Charlie. There is only one Derby and you need to stay in the Derby.' And that is why he is here today."

Sunday at Chantilly in France, it was Coolmore's turn again. St Mark's Basilica enjoyed a perfect trip in the Prix du Jockey Club or French Derby, saving ground while drafting just behind the early leaders.

The Siyouni colt got the go-ahead from jockey Ioritz Mendizibal with 300 meters to go, was on the lead just inside 200 meters and won by 1 3/4 lengths without much urging.

Sealiway, fifth in last November's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, took a brief lead and held second with Millebosc third. Godolphin did not have a runner in the Chantilly Classic.

O'Brien had sent out 39 previous Prix du Jockey Club starters with the best result a second-place finish by Highland Reel in 2015. He said St Mark's Basilica proved he had what it takes with a victory in the Emirates Poule d'Essai des Poulains or French 2,000 Guineas at Longchamp in his previous start.

"You need a very good horse to win it and it's a very difficult race to win," Racing Post quoted O'Brien as saying.

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"His qualities are that he has a lot of speed and he can quicken very well. He's a very relaxed horse, he travels well and he's kind in his races. We thought all those were qualities he would need to win the Jockey Club."

St Mark' Basilica automatically becomes a prospect for the Arc but O'Brien said he likely is best on good ground, perhaps good news for the Breeders' Cup Turf at Del Mar in November.

Japan

The third Breeders' Cup berth up for grabs during the weekend was for the FanDuel Mile and defending Group 1 winner Gran Alegria was favored to land that spot. Instead, the five-time Grade 1 winner got stuck in traffic at mid-stretch in the 1-mile tilt and it was Danon Kingly who put his nose in front of the favored mare to score his first win at the top level.

Danon Kingly, a 5-year-old son of Deep Impact showed no ill effects from a nearly seven-months layoff that apparently turned the trick, ending a string of defeats.

As the field raced down the backstretch, jockey Yuga Kawada kept Danon Kingly nicely placed in the middle of the 14-horse field. He came around rivals turning into the stretch and had clear sailing to the finish. Gran Alegria, by contrast, was caught behind horses as the field climbed the uphill section of the stretch. Once rider Christophe Lemaire finally found running room between rivals, the 5-year-old Deep Impact mare surged to a narrow lead and just failed to hold on for the win.

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‟He felt a bit tense first entering the track but he had good rhythm during the trip and had plenty of horse left," Kawada said of Danon Kingley. "He responded just as I hoped turning the last corner and ran well after that.

"Although he hasn't been able to put in the best results in the past, he has definitely demonstrated his true strength today and I'm happy to have been a part of it in my first time in the saddle," Kawada added.

Danon Kingly won his first three starts, then finished third in the 2019 Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2000 Guineas and third in the Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby. His fortunes went downhill from there until trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara sent him to the sidelines.

Gran Alegria had won four of her last five starts before the Yasuda Kinen, all of the Grade 1 events. She was running on just three weeks' rest after the Victoria Mile over the same course and distance, but her quest for a sixth Grade 1 title came a cropper due to traffic issues rather than lack of fitness.

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