UPI Horse Racing Weekend Preview: Belmont Park takes center stage

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer  |  May 11, 2017 at 4:45 PM
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While keeping an eye on Triple Crown doings at Pimlico, Thoroughbred racing this weekend focuses on Chester in northwest England -- site of preliminaries for the Investec Derby June 6 on Epsom Downs.

That's not to ignore France, where the sorting process will continue along the Channel in Deauville in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains for 3-year-old colts and Poule d'Essai des Pouliches for 3-year-old fillies. A friend reports a computer program translated "pouliches" as "pastries", which sounds French-ly delicious.

In U.S. racing, it's a bit of a recovery period after the frenzy of Derby week in Louisville. Belmont Park, however, takes center stage Saturday with a quartet of graded stakes including the Grade I Man o' War at 11 furlongs on the grass.

The Belmont card also features the Grade III Peter Pan for 3 year olds, a race that must be watched for potential Belmont Stakes contenders.

Since Her Majesty is involved, we'll politely watch England first.

Derby and Oaks preliminaries

Aidan O'Brien sent out the top three in Thursday's Group 3 MBNA Chester Vase and Ryan Moore picked the right one, Venice Beach.

The Galileo colt allowed stablemate The Anvil, also by Galileo, to make all the going with O'Brien's son, Donnacha, aboard. Around the turn and into the final 2 furlongs, Venice Beach advanced steadily and won by 1 1/4 lengths. A third of O'Brien's quartet, Wings of Eagles, was flying on the outside to finish third just a nose farther in arrears and Godolphin's hopeful, Tamleek, came up fourth with a mild late effort along the inside fence.

Venice Beach scored his first win in his third career start last time out, winning a maiden event at Tipperary under Donnacha O'Brien.

All three top finishers are owned by the Coolmore juggernaut and all have entries in the Derby, posing a pretty problem for O'Brien, who also has 2,000 Guineas and current Derby favourite Churchill as well as Sunday's Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial victor Douglas Macarthur. Churchill is tied for No. 9 on the Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings update released Thursday but O'Brien has been dropping veiled hints he may bypass the Derby in favour of Royal Ascot.

On Wednesday at Chester, Frankie Dettori sent Enable to the lead 3 furlongs from home in the Chester Oaks and the Juddmonte Farms homebred filly by Nathanial was easing up at the end as she defeated the favorite, Alluringly, by 1 3/4 lengths. Tansholpan was 9 lengths farther back in third as what looked like a two-filly race proved to be just that.

Enable, trained by John Gosden, now has two wins from three starts and Juddmonte racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe said she is a candidate for either the Oaks or the French equivalent, the Prix de Diane. "It's a happy position to be in," he allowed.

Enable represents the first crop to race for Nathanial, who chased the legendary Frankel several times during their racing careers. Alluringly, an American-bred by Fastnet Rock and racing for Coolmore, remains stuck on single win from four goes.

Her Majesty's homebred Galileo colt, Call to Mind, is among those set for the Dee Stakes on Friday at Chester, going just more than 10 furlongs. The monarch, still seeking her first Derby winner, was present as her colt scored in a 1-mile maiden event April 22 at Newbury and her racing manager, John Warren, said Call to Mind learned from that experience. "He needs some more education," Warren added, "and we think Chester is certainly somewhere that will help him in at respect going forward."

The Dee Stakes field also includes yet ANOTHER five from O'Brien's bottomless stable, perhaps headed by Cliffs of Moher. Salouen was in the frame twice at the Group 1 level last season.

That's not the end of the weekend's Derby and Oaks preliminaries, either. Lingfield on Saturday has the Betfred Mobile Oaks Trial Betfred Derby Trial, both over an extended 11 furlongs. O'Brien also is well represented in these.

And look for more clues to the French (or English) 3-year-old classics Saturday and Sunday at Deauville.

There's a huge field for Saturday's Abu Dhabi Poule d'Essai des Pouliches for the fillies, 1 mile on the straight. There's plenty to consider but one of particular interest is Roly Poly. The War Front filly was excellent last summer, then ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filly Turf and seventh in her return last month at Newmarket. But, hey, it's O'Brien again with Donnacha O'Brien named to ride. Also of note: Pre-eminent German trainer Andreas Wohler brings Delectation, undefeated in three starts including a Group 3 in Cologne in her first start for the new trainer.

There's a nicely balanced bunch in Sunday's Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary at 10 furlongs. Among them is the 1-for-2 Lady Frankel, trained by Andre Fabre.

O'Brien has four in Sunday's Abu Dhabi Poule d'Essai des Poulains but the top-rated colts are Rivet, winner of the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy last fall, and Brametot, a Jean-Claude Rouget trainee who in his 3-year-old debut won a Group 3 at Chantilly comfortably despite missing the break.

Japan

A filly, Aerolithe, won the Group 1 NKH Mile last weekend at Tokyo Racecourse, defeating colts. This Sunday the distaffers are on their own in the Group 1 Victoria Mile over the same course. Three 5-year-old previous Group 1 winners are in the field -- Mikki Queen, Let's Go Donki and Queen's Ring. Smart Layer, Rouge Buck and Admire Lead all merit a look on their recent form. The US$1.75 million event is run left-handed around one turn into the uphill stretch.

England

Let's not let Derby fever consume us totally. On Thursday at Chester, O'Brien and Moore also triumphed in the Group 3 Huxley Stakes as Deauville made all the going and held on to win by a neck over Poet's Word. Folkswood was 2 3/4 lengths farther back in third at the end of the 10 furlongs plus a few yards. Deauville was third, beaten two necks in last summer's Grade I Arlington Million, seventh after a long layoff in the Group 1 Dubai Turf in March and then second in the Group 3 Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown.

Back in North America:

Triple Crown preps

Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming is well ensconced at Pimlico Race Course and preparing to land the second jewel of the U.S. Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, a week from Saturday. The Bodemeister colt galloped one circuit of the Baltimore track Thursday morning and trainer Todd Pletcher proclaimed himself well pleased.

"He continues to show us all of the positive signals that we're looking for," Pletcher said. "His energy level has been good since the race. He handled the ship well. His appetite has been good. I thought he had a real good gallop over the track this morning. It's kind of what we were looking for, a tranquil, quiet setting."

Still, Pletcher said there's no hint of overconfidence.

"Like everyone coming back from the Derby, your biggest concern is trying to repeat a top performance in 14 days," he said.

As the Preakness field solidifies, Santa Anita Derby third-place finisher Royal Mo is a fresh face after just missing the Kentucky Derby field. Also set are Derby runner-up Lookin at Lee; Derby fourth Classic Empire; Gunnevera, seventh in the Run for the Roses; Hence, 11th in Louisville; Illinois Derby winner Multiplier; and Senior Investment, winner of the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.

Meanwhile, at Belmont Park: Things didn't work out so well in the Kentucky Derby for UAE Derby winner Thunder Snow, who basically decided he didn't want to run that day. Fast forward to Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Peter Pan at Belmont Park, where the horse who finished third in Dubai, Master Plan, heads a field of six. Note, too, that he's trained and ridden by the combo who sent Always Dreaming to victory in the Run for the Roses -- Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez. As with Always Dreaming, China Horse Club is part of the ownership team. This can be a prelim for the Belmont Stakes and UAE Derby runner-up Epicharis already is booked on a flight from Japan to contest that race on June 10.

The Peter Pan also includes two from Chad Brown's barn: Morning-line favorite Timeline and Take Your Guns; Florida Derby fourth Impressive Edge; and Looking at Blessing, fifth in the Lexington at Keeneland.

Turf

Eight are entered for Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Man o' War at Belmont Park, one of the great and historic American races, and you can make a case for any of them. Charming Kitten, Wake Forest, Twilight Eclipse, Patterson Cross, Taghleeb and the up-and coming 4-year-old, Sadler's Joy all competed with distinction on the Gulfstream Park greensward this season. Highland Sky, meanwhile, was narrowly beaten in two important Belmont Park turf stakes last summer. And, to further confuse things, trainer Dermot Weld brings Zhukova, a 5-year-old Fastnet Rock mare, with Group 3 wins in Ireland on her resume and John Velazquez signed on to ride. Wake Forest is the 5-2 pick on the morning line. This should be fun to watch.

Filly & Mare Turf

Trainer Graham Motion scratched Miss Temple City last weekend at Churchill Downs because he didn't like the soft turf. Unfortunately, not only does the rainy weather forecast threaten more of the same for "Plan B" -- Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Beaugay for fillies and mares at Belmont Park -- but the competition looks even tougher.

Miss Temple City won both of Keeneland's Grade I grass miles last year, finished a good fifth in the Breeders' Cup and then won the Grade I Matriarch at Del Mar in December. She has not raced since, partly because of a minor injury.

The other seven entered for the Beaugay include Raina Da Bateria, who was two noses and a neck from being 4-for-5 last year; Time and Motion, who at this time last year was starting a 5-of-6 streak; and Euro import Hawksmoor, a Group 2 winner in Germany.

Saturday's $50,000 Golden Poppy at Golden Gate Fields drew 11, headed by 8-5 morning-line favorite Lady Valeur.

Turf Sprint

This division has three events on Saturday, none for big money but all with potential. Monmouth Park (Welcome back!) hosts the Wolf Hill Stakes at 5 furlongs. Churchill Downs has the Unbridled Sydney for fillies and mares at the same distance. And 3-year-olds will be racing down the hill at Santa Anita in the Desert Code Stakes.

Sprint/Mile

Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Lazaro Barrera Stakes at Santa Anita is 7 furlongs for 3-year-olds. Six are entered and the oddsmaker couldn't find much to separate them. American Anthem, returning to sprinting after misfiring in the Rebel at Oaklawn and the Santa Anita Derby, is the narrow 2-1 favorite. Like Always Dreaming, he's by Bodemeister. Unlike American Dreaming, he's trained by Bob Baffert, who also trained Bodemeister.

Hootenanny will try to get back in gear in his first start of 2017 as Arlington Park kicks off its stakes schedule with Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Hanshin Cup for 3-year-olds and up at 1 mile on the all-weather track. Hootenanny won the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf as a 2-year-old. Now 5, the son of Quality Road makes his firsts start since finishing fifth in the Grade II City of Hope at Santa Anita last Octo 8. Last year's long shot Hanshin Cup winner, Trace Creek, will be seeking a repeat in a field of 11.

Distaff Sprint/Mile

Only five signed on for Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Ruffian at Belmont Park and several are basically sprinters stretching out to the one-turn mile. High Ridge Road drew the rail and was installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite.

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