Hard Love one to like: Preview of Saturday's Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) @Belmont Park

The Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational for 3-yr-old colts kicks off the Turf Triple ... Check out this preview of the big race ...
The Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational for 3-yr-old colts kicks off the Turf Triple ... Check out this preview of the big race ...

1¼ (Turf), Belmont Derby Invitational (G1), Purse $1 Million, 3

The “fellas,” a group of precocious young colts who are on the make, will be taking on one another in one of the highlights of what amounts to “Closing Weekend” at beautiful Belmont Park. A piece of $1 Million bucks is on the line, and it will go to not only the fastest, but the most cunning connections who can brave this key distance test.

Back in 2019, it became part of the inaugural “Turf Triple Series,” which was specifically geared for 3-yr-old colts. The second leg, the $1 Million Saratoga Derby, will be contested at 1 3/16-miles (1,900 meters) 8 Aug. on the Saratoga sod. The series is capped at Belmont Park with the $1 Million Jockey Club Derby on 18 Sept., which is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race for the BC Turf.

Past winners include a bevy of greats like Artie Schiller and Court Vision to more recent ones like Up With the Birds, Mr Speaker, Oscar Performance, Catholic Boy, and Henley’s Joy. Last year, we saw the rise of Christophe Clement’s Gufo, who last week returned to the scene, scoring a nice win in the Grand Couturier 150k. Clearly, the Belmont Derby can serve as a springboard to promise. Catholic Boy’s run through the Travers (G1) back in 2018 proved that convincingly. Who will rise this year?

Now, let’s find out about this field…


#1 Palazzi (Jky: T. Gaffalione/Trn: M. Casse):

If you are looking for a late turn-of-foot out of a colt in this spot, then look no further than Mark Casse’s entry. The Hank Nothhaft bred colt was sold at the FT Sale in 2019 for $510k, and he is about halfway there to making it up. These Pioneerof the Nile runners love the turf, and I fully expect this one to be in the mix late. Tyler Gaffalione will have the opportunity to ride for the 3rd straight time, and some double-digit odds might be in this runner’s future, especially considering the class that has drawn in for Saturday. John Oxley makes shrewd investments, and he has a sleeper in this spot.

Grade: B


#2 Bolshoi Ballet (Jky: R. Moore/Trn: A. O’Brien):

Right now, it is looking like Aidan O’Brien is holding the ace, as he ships this well-bred colt into Belmont. The son of Galileo (IRE) was entered in the Cazoo Derby (G1) last month at Epsom, and that can be considered nothing short of a world-class race. He was the favorite coming into that one, and though he finished 7th, he deserves respect based on that prior record of his. A pair of G3 victories at Leopardstown (IRE) will makes most punters offer a bet, but I am not keen even with the knowledge that Ryan Moore is riding him once again. You just never know how one of these runners will ship. Maybe a better performance at Epsom would lead to more confidence. It is a miss for me.

Grade: B


#3 Safe Conduct (Jky: J. Lezcano/Trn: P. Serpe):

The last time we saw Phil Serpe’s runner at Belmont, it was in a G3 that was off-the-turf. There is no doubt that the Wellspring Stables colt has talent, based on a slate of races dating back to Saratoga last year where he won or finished 2nd 3 races in-a-row. The Bodemeister runner out of Empire Maker might need some more experience on the grass, and the added distance is more than just a concern for me. Jose Lezcano is a seasoned rider on the sod, but he is going to have to try to work out a trip in what is shaping up to be a tough spot, in my good opinion.

Grade: C+


#4 Sainthood (Jky: J. Rosario/Trn: T. Pletcher):

Trainer Todd Pletcher’s colt out of the sheepish sire Mshawish was a “trendy” pick to upset the field in the KYD147. It didn’t happen, as he faded like many did down the lane. His conditioner was hoping to get him a grass tryout last time in a G3 at 1 1/8th, but the Winstar connections were washed out to the dirt. He fought through the slog, and came out a winner, despite a rough trip. This one is a fighter, and probably can handle the distance test based on the premise that his sire ran long back in the day. By retaining Joel Rosario services, that move should make a significant impact. Is this one destined to join Derby alums who switch to the turf, and end up having some nice careers? Could be …

Grade: B+


#5 Du Jour (Jky: F. Prat/Trn: B. Mott):

Natalie Baffert was forced to send her star colt over to the barn of Bill Mott, especially if she wanted to see him run at a NYRA track. The travails of her husband continue to make headlines, and who knows when a resolution will arrive. In the meantime, former Baffert Barn hopefuls are seeking asylum elsewhere. I am sure trainers like Mott are happy to oblige. Honestly, coming into the American Turf (G2) at Churchill, I was not prepared to back this son of Temple City. The bloodline speaks glaringly to the grass, but maybe I was just incredulous that a horse like this could be trained by Baffert … owned by Baffert. In my folly, others triumphed, and so it goes. I am sticking by my pre-race assessment from April 28—pass. That is even with having Flavien Prat aboard once again.

Grade: B-


#6 Hard Love (Jky: M. Franco/Trn: J. Thomas):

Trainer Jonathan Thomas is one of the best trainers in all of North America that you probably haven’t heard of. His transition from steeplechaser to a Thoroughbred conditioner didn’t happen overnight … he paid his dues, and continues to put forth some quality runners. This one, looks quite promising. You cannot go wrong with a son or daughter of Kitten’s Joy, especially on a surface like this one. Robert Lapenta is one heck of an owner, and these connections have high hopes as this one graduates to the big leagues. The ridgling appears to have some hidden class after a pair of 100k “Non-Gs.” Those outings should not be overlooked. Manny Franco likewise gets short shrift when it comes to his grass riding exploits. I like him here … Could be one of my topic picks … oh, and the price will be right!   

Grade: A-


#7 Tokyo Gold (FR) (Jky: J. Velazquez/Trn: K. Shinya):

Here is a Japanese-owned and trained entry, who was bred in France as a homebred, has run most-recently in Italy, and now gets Johnny V to ride … what a global affair! Most will not know what to do with this one, and I am not far behind that assertion. I think of what Velazquez will do in this situation. It just has too many variables attached to it … I might look elsewhere, but not because Italian races are inferior. They can have strong class lines. The Longchamp (G3), 2-back, was a 4th place finish, and that is more of a concern. Rough time ahead … nothing to do with the flight over.  

Grade: C+


#8 Cellist (Jky: J. Leparoux/Trn: R. Arnold):

The wily veteran rider Julien Leparoux has a history of taking runners out on the lead, and stealing the whole shebang. That is precisely what he did last time with this colt out of Big Blue Kitten. The 150k Audubon had some good runners involved (including Palazzi #1), and he could elevate here for Rusty Arnold. Leparoux is the only one to ever ride this Calumet homebred. What's for sure ... is he can get the distance, and has a shot to flip the script. Back at Keeneland he made progress on the backstretch and nearly held on for the win in a tough ALLW81k contest. Those are quality … Arnold has a nice one on his hands.

Grade: B


#9 Hidden Enemy (Jky: L. Saez/Trn: S. Asmussen):

When Luis Saez and Steve Asmussen get together, they can form a strong consortium. The thing is … they do not work together that often. Saez has never ridden this son of Galileo (IRE), but he has the ability to make up for it with aggressive tactics. The L and N Racing Team has witnessed a couple of 4th place finishes in the American Turf (G2) and the Audubon150k. He will be facing some of his old foes in the Derby, and it is going to take a game effort if he wants to visit the winner’s circle. It may not be enough in the end.

Grade: C+


Join us Saturday for all of our selections! Should be a great set of races wrapping up the Belmont Meet!