1 of 3 | Forte, shown winning the '22 Hopeful Stakes, missed the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but is favorite for Saturday's Belmont Stakes. Photo courtesy of New York Racing Association
June 9 (UPI) -- A three-day weekend packed with important stakes races is on tap at Belmont Park, including the finale of the U.S. Triple Crown and the start of unofficial Breeders' Cup preview weekends that crescendo in the fall.
The Belmont Stakes takes the starring role, even without the chance for a Triple Crown sweep. But there also are races at the Long Island track for just about every division that will be contested at the Breeders' Cup World Championships Nov. 4-5 at Santa Anita.
Three of the weekend's races, in fact, are "Win and You're In" affairs for November.
The fun was due to start Thursday and run four days. Instead, smoke from Canadian wildfires forced cancellation of the Thursday program. The experts said conditions would improve enough to run Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
But wait. There's more in weekend racing. Churchill Downs Inc. may have sent the remainder of its season down the Ohio River to Ellis Park, but Sunday's Grade III Matt Winn Stakes still is one to watch regardless of location. The 3-year-olds go on the turf at Santa Anita.
There's enough going on to more than justify a second set of eyes on those past performances. Whose eyes better than those of industry expert Jude Feld, who killed it on Preakness Day? Jude makes his Belmont weekend thoughts available at popejude.com.
With the Derby festivities done in England and Grade 1 racing taking a pause in Asia, it's a relatively quiet weekend on the world front.
See "News and Notes" for updates on animal welfare and other industry matters, including the impending demise of yet another iconic racetrack.
Off to the races ...
The Triple Crown Finale
Saturday's $1.5 million Grade I Belmont Stakes won't crown a Triple Crown champion, but it will another step in sorting out a 3-year-old picture that's muddled because this year's unusual circumstances at Churchill Downs.
Kentucky Derby winner Mage is absent from the proceedings, but trainer Bob Baffert returns with Preakness winner National Treasure. The morning-line favorite is Forte, the colt many still rank at the top of the division.
His late scratch from the Derby amid a rash of horse fatalities in Louisville and his subsequent absence from the Preakness precipitated the uncertainty in the ranks.
National Treasure finished fourth with traffic issues in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, arguably the best of the Kentucky Derby preps, even though none of the first three finishers, Practical Move, Mandarin Hero, made it to the Kentucky Derby.
Also lining up for the Belmont are Grade I Blue Grass winner Tapit Trice, seventh in the Kentucky Derby; Hit Show, second in the Wood Memorial and fifth in the Derby; Arkansas Derby winner Angel of Empire, third horse in Louisville; and Red Route One, fourth in the Preakness.
Newcomers to the Triple Crown are Grade III Peter Pan winner Arcangelo and long shots Il Miracolo and Tapit Shoes.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Forte seems fit and ready despite his 10-week layoff.
"We still have to do it," Pletcher said. "It wasn't ideal the way we got here, but it's how it's unfolded."
Owner Mike Repole, one of the most enthusiastic people in racing, said he's still high on Forte's prospects.
"We still think this is the best 3-year-old in the crop, and I think on Saturday he's going to prove that," Repole said.
On the wagering front, the New York Racing Association is laying on a whole slew of new wagers for the weekend, including several two-day bets and a couple of Pick-3 wagers with a $3 minimum.
Caveat emptor! Takeouts range from 18.5% to 24%. By comparison, Colonial Downs in Virginia Tuesday announced Pick-6 takeouts of 15% and a 12% rake on daily Pick-5 wagers.
Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Brooklyn Stakes at Belmont Park, a 2 1/2-mile affair, has several nice ones among the 11 entries, but none of them could been seen as dominant.
The morning line reflects that, with bows to Warrant (the 5-2 favorite), Next (3-1), Bright Future (4-1), Lone Rock and Red Run (both 6-1). Warrant and Lone Rock finished second and third in the 2022 Brooklyn behind Fearless, who is entered in Saturday's 6 1/2-furlong True North Stakes at Belmont after a long spell on the bench.
Sunday's $450,000 Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at Ellis Park looks almost as much a third leg of the Triple Crown than that race in New York.
A field including four Derby colts arguably is topped by Disarm. The Gun Runner colt has only one win on his resume, but was second in both the Grade II Louisiana Derby and Grade III Lexington at Keeneland before reporting fourth in the Kentucky Derby.
Verifying enters the Matt Winn after finishing fourth in the Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn Park, second in the Grade I Blue Grass at Keeneland and 16th in the Kentucky Derby, where he led for the first 6 furlongs.
Raise Cain won the Grade III Gotham at Aqueduct, then was fifth in the Blue Grass and eighth in the Kentucky Derby. King Russell was second in the Arkansaas Derby and 15th in Louisville.
Cody's Wish puts his five-race winning streak on the line as the 7-5 morning-line favorite in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Hill 'n' Dale Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park, the "Met Mile."
The race is a "Win and You're In" for the Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, which Cody's Wish won last year at Keeneland.
Repo Rocks has won five of his last six starts and looks like the major threat. Zandon, third in last year's Kentucky Derby, hasn't won in 14 months, but wouldn't need much improvement to be competitive.
Kentucky Oaks winner Pretty Mischievous returns in Friday's $500,000 Grade I Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park, facing a fascinating cast of seven rivals.
The only other returnee from the Churchill Downs race is Dorth Vader, who faded late to finish fifth but now has a sixteenth of a mile less to deal with.
Neither of them is the morning-line favorite, though. That honor goes to Munnys Gold, winner of three straight races before finishing second to Red Carpet Ready in the Grade II Eight Belles on Oaks Day in Louisville.
Accede was a good third in the Eight Belles and her connections alone (owner-breeder Juddmonte, sire Into Mischief, trainer Chad Brown and sire Into Mischief) might indicate she can outrun the 8-1 odds on the morning-line.
Speedy foes Goodgirl Badhabits and Randomize take a huge step up, but are worth a look.
Secret Oath and Clairiere go at it again in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff.
The two met twice this spring at Oaklawn Park with 2022 Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath defeating Clairiere by 2 1/2 lengths in the Grade II Azeri and Clairiere returning the favor, by a neck, in the Grade I Apple Blossom.
Since then, Secret Oath was second in the Grade I La Troienne at Churchill Downs. Played Hard and Search Results, first and third in the La Troienne, also reappear in this six-horse field.
Adare Manor rolls into Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Margarita Stakes at Santa Anita off a 4 3/4-length victory in the Grade Santa Maria. Overall, she has four wins and four seconds from 10 starts for trainer Baffert.
Desert Dawn hasn't won since upsetting last year's Santa Anita Oaks but usually is in the mix. The other three have had their moments but this may not be a spot for them.
General Jim and Arabian Lion are the oddsmakers' picks in an excellent field set for Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Woody Stephens Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park.
General Jim, an Into Mischief colt trained by Shug McGaughey, won the Grade III Pat Day Mile in his latest start. Arabian Lion, a Justify colt from the Baffert string, was second in the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland and won the Sir Barton at Pimlico in his most recent effort.
Federal Judge, New York Thunder and Drew's Gold all enter undefeated. Several others don't need much improvement to figure in the outcome.
Elite Power is the elite of six-horse field set for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II True North Stakes at Belmont Park.
The winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint and this year's $1.5 million Riyadh Dirt Sprint in Saudi Arabia, he has won six straight races for trainer Bill Mott. Strobe has turned into a tough one for Brad Cox but steps up in class against Elite Power, the 4-5 favorite on the morning line.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Smoke put the kibosh on Thursday's $150,000 Jersey Girl Stakes at Belmont Park with Red Carpet Ready and Chocolate Gelato the solid morning-line favorites. When the race was redrawn Thursday for Sunday, Red Carpet Ready was a dropout and five are left.
Chocolate Gelato won last year's Grade I Frizette in the Aqueduct slop, then finished 12th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Aunt Becca comes off a nice win at Keeneland April 22 for trainer Cherie DeVaux.
It's tough to separate out any of the 10 set for Sunday's $175,000 Leslie's Lady Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Ellis Park, but at least Condensation has been consistent at a relatively high level.
The Frosted filly was second in the Grade III Honeybee and fourth in the Grade III Fantasy, both at Oaklawn Park, then fourth in the Grade II Eight Belles at Churchill Downs on Oaks day. Topsy was second in the Grade III Miss Preakness but drew the outside gate for this.
Gold Sweep just missed a career-opening victory May 18 at Churchill Downs and seems a likely prospect among seven set for Sunday's $150,000 Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park.
The Speightstown colt, trained by Steve Asmussen, rallied from off the pace to finish just 3/4 length short of the winner with the best Beyer Speed Figure in the field. On the other hand, all six rivals in the Tremont won their last start.
Golden Ghost gets a lot of attention leading up to her career debut in Sunday's $150,000 Astoria Stakes at Belmont Park.
That's logical as the well-bred Medaglia d'Oro filly comes from a stellar female family, sold for $500,000 last fall at Keeneland and has been working well for trainer Mark Casse.
Five rivals, four of them already winners, try to spoil the coming-out party.
This year's Godolphin invasion of New York hasn't gone as smoothly as Sheik Mohammed and trainer Charlie Appleby might have hoped, but the Belmont Park oddsmaker reckons that will change in Friday's $250,000 Grade II Belmont Gold Cup.
Appleby sends out Siskany against 10 rivals in the 2-mile marathon, and it's hard to argue with the 5-year-old Dubawi gelding's 8-5 odds, if only on the basis of his second behind Broome in the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup on World Cup night in Dubai two starts back.
Joseph Patrick O'Brien brings High Definition from Ireland. Among the locals, Bill Mott saddles 9-year-old Channel Maker for his longest effort ever.
Speaking of the Godolphin invasion, Appleby fields Ottoman Fleet and Warren Point in Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Resorts World Casino Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park.
Ottoman Fleet, a Sea the Stars gelding, won the Grade II Fort Marcy Stakes over the course May 6, but Warren Point faded late in the Grade I Man o' War a week later to finish fifth as the odds-on favorite, beaten 1 3/4 lengths.
The favorite in this 10-horse field, however, is Up to the Mark, a 4-year-old Not This Time colt trained by Todd Pletcher, winner of the Grade I Turf Classic at Churchill Downs last time out.
Baffert pulls a switcheroo with Worcester in Sunday's $100,000 Cinema Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita.
The Empire Maker colt was third in the Robert B. Lewis, a potential Triple Crown prep, in February, but then didn't fire in Dubai, finishing 11th in the Group 2 UAE Derby.
He returned to finish second, beaten just a head, in a 1-mile maiden event at 1 mile on the dirt, and Sunday will be looking down the grassy hillside while facing just 6 1/2 furlongs.
Arriving with more traditional resumes are Wizard of West Wood and Mi Hermano Ramon.
Filly & Mare Turf
Speaking yet again of the Godolphin invasion, Appleby has With the Moonlight back in North America for Friday's $600,000 Grade I New York Stakes at Belmont Park.
The Frankel filly won last year's Grade III Saratoga Oaks and finished second in both the Grade I Belmont Oaks and the Grade II Lake Placid.
She won a pair of Group 2 races in Dubai, returned to Keeneland to finish second in the Grade II Jenny Wiley in April and tossed in a clunker in the Group 2 Dahlia at Newmarket on May 7.
The favorite here is Mott's ultra-consistent Trainee War Like Goddess. The English Channel mare has won 10 of 14 starts.
The ever-dangerous turf maestro, Chad Brown, saddles four of the eight distaffers and Ignacio Correas IV has Dida, undefeated in four starts since migrating north from her native Argentina.
Thursday's $200,000 Grade II Wonder Again Stakes at Belmont Park drew eight 3-year-old fillies. Two of the three from Chad Brown's barn, Revalita and Venecia, are at the top of the morning line, along with a Chad Pletcher charge, Spansive, who is undefeated after two starts.
Spansive is the only confirmed front-runner in the field and likely will be away and winging from the outside gate.
Only five turned out for Friday's $500,000 Grade I Just a Game Stakes at 1 mile on the Belmont Park turf. Brown saddles two of them, including the 1-2 morning-line favorite, In Italian.
The 5-year-old Dubawi mare would have a four-race winning streak but for a second-place finish behind Tuesday in November's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Overall, she has six wins from 10 starts and has never been worse than third.
The chief rival here seems to be Spendarella, a 4-year-old Karakontie filly from Graham Motion's shedrow who has four wins and two seconds from six starts. She finished second in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at last year's Royal Ascot and comes off a second in the Grade II Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs.
Paris Secret might be the logical pick in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Honeymoon Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita. The Irish-bred filly beat several of her seven rivals in the Grade III Providencia Stakes in her last start.
On the other hand, she finished behind two of them two starts back in the China Doll Stakes. Baffert fans will have a look at Fast and Shiny, but question the 1 1/8-mile ask after a couple of downhill sprints.
Chez Pierre enters Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Poker Stakes at Belmont Park as winner of six of his seven career starts, most recently the Grade I Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland.
That's enough to make him an even-money favorite on the morning line. It helps that some of the best-credentialed opposition comes off long layoffs but it still won't be a gimme.
An overflow field is on hand for Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Jaipur Stakes at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. Caraval won that race last year, part of an ongoing four-race victory skein, and looks for a free entry for a return engagement.
Despite all that, she's only 3-1 as the morning-line favorite in a field that also includes Casa Creed, second in the Group 3 1351 Turf Sprint in Saudi Arabia in his last start, as well as five other graded or group stakes winners from around the globe.
Bubble Rock, Poppy Flower, Goin' Good and Messidor, the superfecta from the License Fee Stakes on May 7, all return for Friday's $200,000 Grade III Intercontinental Stakes for fillies and mares at Belmont Park. Amy C arrives from California with a two-race win streak. Eight are set for the 6 furlongs.
News and Notes
Churchill Downs Inc.'s decision to move the remainder of its meeting to Ellis Park in the interest of safety seems to have been embraced by horsemen, judging by field sizes for Saturday's program. Ten races drew 97 entries, including four "also-eligibles" for the opener.
Meanwhile, racing officials at the national and state level still seek answers to the causes of 12 horse deaths at Churchill Downs between March 30 and last weekend.
In England, Ben Newman, the "Animal Rising" protester who trespassed onto the course during the running of Saturday's Epsom Derby, has been ordered held in custody until a court hearing July 6.
Prosecutor Natalie Roepke told Guildford Magistrates Court, according to Racing Post, "The defendant can be seen to enter the track while the race is running. He put his own life and the lives of others at risk, and more importantly, the horses that Animal Rising claims to protect."
The prosecution also alluded to fears "Animal Rising," which has been unrepentant about disruption of the Grand National and the Derby, might continue risky behavior during the Royal Ascot meeting the third week in June.
Sad news from Singapore. The Singapore Turf Club is ending racing in the tiny nation as a result of a government decision to reclaim the land on which Kranji Racecourse operates.
The government cited declining attendance at racing and a greater need to use the property for housing and more popular recreational opportunities.
Singapore has hosted racing for 180 years, and at one time operated at the top levels of international competition. As recently as the middle of the past decade, its annual schedule included two international Group 1 events. The final race is set for October 2024.
Trainer Richard Gibson is leaving Hong Kong at the end of the current season. He arrived in Hong Kong from France for the 2011-12 season and has earned 286 wins, and counting, in the city including several Group 1 events.
"It sounds corny, but I'm very honored to have represented Europe for 12 years in Hong Kong," South China Morning Post quoted the trainer as saying. "I'm certainly returning to Europe a more rounded and accomplished horseman."