The Fourth of July weekend saw some flashy performances, including a pair of stakes winners at Belmont Park who ran like they had rockets strapped to their backs.
Olympiad’s decisive victory in the Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill Downs was his fourth win in as many starts this year. The Bill Mott-trained colt beat a field of solid horses in the Stephen Foster including Americanrevolution, last year’s Cigar Mile winner; Mandaloun, the placed winner of last year’s Kentucky Derby; and Last Samurai, the Oaklawn Handicap champion.
Olympiad ran the Stephen Foster in the seventh-fastest time in the race’s history, earning him a 111 Beyer speed figure, one of the fastest recorded among American thoroughbreds this year.
The victory in the Stephen Foster, a Breeders’ Cup win-and-you’re-in race, punched Olympiad’s ticket to the World Championships at Keeneland this fall. But he’s got plenty left for at least one or two more big races ahead, including the $1 million Whitney Stakes at Saratoga in August.
His toughest opponent in the Whitney would likely be Life is Good, who demolished a four-horse field to win Saturday’s John A. Nerud Stakes at Belmont Park.
The Todd Pletcher-trained, lightly raced Life is Good has that perfect combination of speed and stamina, enabling him to win sprints like the 7-furlong Nerud or routes like the 9-furlong Pegasus World Cup, which he won at Gulfstream Park in January. Life is Good earned a 112 Beyer figure for his effort, and Pletcher told the Daily Racing Form that the race was an ideal warm-up for the Whitney.
Olympiad and Life is Good could make for a great matchup in the Whitney, pitting a professional route-runner against a dynamic, versatile speedster. Though Life is Good will likely be favored, Olympiad will be the most likely to upset him at the “graveyard of favorites.”
And then there’s Charge It, who provided an eye-popping performance at Belmont Park in the Dwyer Stakes with an incredible 23-length victory, his first race off a 17th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. He got a 111 Beyer figure for his Dwyer victory, the highest figure of any three-year-old this year, according to DRF.
Watch Charge It do his best Secretariat-in-the-Belmont impression below…
Throw out his dismal Derby, and Charge It has two wins and two seconds in four lifetime starts, though he has yet to win around two turns. There’s potential for him to finally get that two-turn win down the road, and it could be in the $1.25 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga in late August.
Pletcher, who trains Charge It, told DRF that he’ll likely train Charge It up to the Travers – a wise decision given the monster performance in the Dwyer which could lead to a “bounce” in a race too soon off that effort. He’ll need a good recovery to come back and beat the likes of Early Voting or even Jack Christopher.
Race of the Week: Belmont Derby
Saturday, July 9
Purse: $1 million
Distance: 1 ¼ Miles on turf
Conditions: Three year-olds
TV: FS2 (coverage begins at 12 p.m.; post time 5:12 p.m.)
The highlight of the “Stars and Stripes Racing Festival” on the penultimate day of the Belmont Park spring meet, the Belmont Derby has become one of the top American turf races for three-year-old horses – drawing a field from across the U.S. and overseas.
Thirteen horses are entered in Saturday’s race, including four making the trip from across the pond. The best among them might be Nations Pride, trained by Charlie Appleby and ridden by the renowned Frankie Dettori, who finished a disappointing eighth in the Group 1 Epsom Derby last out. He had rattled off four-straight wins prior to that disappointing effort.
Appleby has had plenty of success shipping in horses from the United Kingdom and Ireland to achieve greatness on the New York turf. Last year, he won Belmont’s Jockey Club Derby with Yibir, who later won the Breeders’ Cup Turf; and he trained two fillies, Althiqua and Summer Romance, to identical one-two efforts in the Just A Game Stakes and Diana Stakes.
Another overseas trainer with recent Belmont Derby success, Aidan O’Brien, sends in Stone Age, who finished sixth in the Epsom Derby last out. O’Brien has won the Belmont Derby twice with Deauville in 2016 and Bolshoi Ballet last year. Ryan Moore will ride Stone Age in this year’s Belmont Derby.
The American contingent, however, has some intriguing horses including Emmanuel, who won the Pennine Ridge Stakes at Belmont Park in his first turf start for trainer Todd Pletcher; Stolen Base, winner of the American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day; and Tiz the Bomb, who finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby but seems to do his best running on grass, having run second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
And you can’t ever discount trainer Chad Brown, who always has strong turf horses. He has just one entrant in this year’s Belmont Derby: Napoleonic War, who was second to Emmanuel in the Pennine Ridge.
There will be plenty of pace in the Belmont Derby with front-running Classic Causeway entering off a third-place effort in the Ohio Derby for trainer Ken McPeek. A strong early pace should set up well for the closers, and it figures that Nations Pride would certainly benefit not only from that set up, but also from the cutback in distance from 1 1/2 Miles (last out in the Epsom Derby) to 1 1/4 Miles.
But Napoleonic War or Tiz the Bomb, with clean trips, could surprise the European contingent, or at the very least hit the board — offering some great value in the exotics.
Our picks: Nations Pride, Napoleonic War, Tiz the Bomb