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2023 Belmont Derby Preview & FREE Picks | The Foxes Ships In To Face Silver Knott, Kalik, Webslinger
The Foxes (Shamela Hanley/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

2023 Belmont Derby Preview & FREE Picks | The Foxes Ships In To Face Silver Knott, Kalik, Webslinger

Aaron previews the 2023 Belmont Derby (G1) from Belmont Park, then gives his top picks & long shots. The Andrew Balding-trained multiple Group 2 winner The Foxes ships to America for the 1st time & will face the likes of Kalik, Webslinger, & fellow European Silver Knott. Who conquers this tough turf test? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The press release:

European invaders The Foxes and Silver Knott take on formidable U.S.-based opponents Kalik and Webslinger in Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Belmont Derby Invitational, a 1 1/4-mile inner turf test for 3-year-olds, at Belmont Park.

The Belmont Derby is slated as Race 10 on the lucrative 12-race card which also features the Grade 1, $500,000 Fasig-Tipton Belmont Oaks Invitational for sophomore fillies in Race 8; the Grade 2, $350,000 Suburban for older horses going 1 1/4 miles in Race 5; and the Grade 3, $175,000 Victory Ride for sophomore fillies sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs in Race 11. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.

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King Power Racing’s The Foxes arrived at Belmont Park on Friday and cleared quarantine to trot over the dirt training track on Sunday in preparation for his U.S. debut.

Trained by Andrew Balding, the Churchill bay captured the one-mile Group 2 Royal Lodge in September at Newmarket to close out a two-win juvenile campaign. He made his seasonal debut in April with a runner-up effort to Indestructible in the Group 3 Craven traveling one-mile at Newmarket ahead of a surging neck score over Group 3-winner White Birch in the 1 5/16-mile Group 2 Dante on May 18 at York.

The Foxes arrives off a fifth-place finish in the 12-furlong Group 1 Epsom Derby on June 3 where he stumbled at the break and advanced to third with a furlong to run before flattening.

“He’s a high-class horse. He won the Royal Lodge last year and this year he won our main Derby trial at York,” Balding said. “He ran a good race in the Derby, but we felt he didn’t get the mile and a half. Obviously, the option to drop back to 10 furlongs was attractive. Hopefully, it’s a good fit for him.

“It wasn’t ideal,” added Balding, regarding the troubled start in the Epsom Derby. “But, at the same time, he came more or less from where the winner did so he had every chance, but he didn’t finish his race as well as we’d hoped.”

The Foxes raced towards the back of the 11-horse Dante field under Oisin Murphy, advancing with a quarter-mile remaining to take the lead at the furlong marker. He angled out across the course nearing the wire to engage his main foes and secured the win with a strong finish.

“He’s a horse with a high-cruising speed and travels pretty well,” Balding said. “It was a strong Dante this year and he hung across the track a little bit to his right, but I thought he was well on top at the end of the race. It was a high-class performance.”

The Foxes, out of the Darshaan mare Tanaghum, is a half-brother to Group 1-winner Matterhorn and multiple group stakes-winner Bangkok, who was trained by Balding and captured the 2019 Group 3 Classic Trial at Sandown en route to an off-the-board effort in that year’s Epsom Derby. Bred in Ireland by Barronstown Stud, The Foxes was purchased for $629,526 at the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale.

Balding said The Foxes always demonstrated the markings of a good horse.

“Very much so,” Balding concurred. “We trained Bangkok, who was a very smart horse and actually ran in the Derby as well having won one of the trials. He was a very decent horse. The Foxes has a little more size to him and he was a beautiful yearling – as his price would suggest – and he’s developed into a really lovely looking 3-year-old.”

Balding said the presence of Murphy, who retains the mount from the outermost post 11, is a significant benefit.

“It’s a help that Oisin Murphy has ridden him in all three of his starts this year,” Balding said. “He knows him well and he’s one of our top jockeys. I’m sure he’ll try to find him the best passage he can, but the horse travels strongly so he should be able to sit wherever he wants.”

Balding said a good result here could see a return trip for The Foxes to the Grade 1, $600,000 Saratoga Derby Invitational, a 1 3/16-mile test for sophomores on August 5 at Saratoga Race Course.

“He’ll come back here after and the Saratoga race would be an option, but obviously we’ve got races in Europe as well to consider,” Balding said.

Godolphin’s dual Group 3-winner Silver Knott [post 6, Richie Mullen], trained by Charlie Appleby, will look to make amends after a troubled third last out in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Pennine Ridge won gate-to-wire by Kalik on June 3 over Belmont’s inner turf.

With returning rider Richie Mullen up, the Lope de Vega bay was off slow and saved ground before making a late run to finish one length behind Kalik and a head in arrears of runner-up and returning foe Far Bridge.

Silver Knott stayed at Belmont following the Pennine Ridge and has since visited the starting gate multiple times, including a three-eighths work from the gate in 35.65 on June 14 over the main track as well as popping out of the gate again here on Wednesday.

Silver Knott won a pair of Group 3 tests as a 2-year-old, capturing the seven-furlong Solario in August at Sandown Park and the one-mile Autumn in October at Newmarket ahead of a narrow nose defeat to Victoria Road in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in November at Keeneland.

Bred in Great Britain by St Albans Bloodstock, the $1,035,915 purchase from the October 2021 Tattersalls Yearling Sale is the first progeny out of the Group 1-winning Nathaniel mare God Given – a half-sister to four-time Group 1-winning multimillionaire Postponed.

Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse will saddle a pair of top contenders in graded-stakes winners Webslinger [post 4, Javier Castellano] and Boppy O [post 2, Luis Saez].

D.J. Stable’s Webslinger, by Constitution, showed promise at second asking in August at Saratoga when closing to finish second under Luis Saez in a restricted maiden sprint after being checked hard and losing position.

He followed with a rallying half-length score in the $510,000 Nownownow going one mile in September at Monmouth Park before another difficult outing when 11th – defeated just four lengths – in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

“We ran him in an auction race on the turf at Saratoga and he nearly went through the rail and got back to last, but came running. Saez, when he got off him, said, ‘this horse can really run,’” recalled Casse. “We ran him as a maiden and he won the half-million dollar race at Monmouth. Nothing went right at the Breeders’ Cup, but he was beat four lengths. I came away from that thinking with a better trip, he would have been right there.”

Webslinger returned this year as a first-time gelding and has since posted a perfect in-the-money record of 5-3-1-1, including a deep-closing third in the Grade 3 Transylvania in April at Keeneland ahead of close-up efforts at Churchill Downs when victorious in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 American Turf on May 6 and the nine-furlong Audubon on June 3.

“We gelded him and I think that really helped him. He started focusing more,” Casse said. “It takes a little while for that mentality to change and make them more focused, but I think that’s probably been the biggest part of his turnaround.”

Casse also credits Javier Castellano, who captured two-thirds of this year’s Triple Crown, with helping the bay learn to be more tactical as the Hall of Fame pilot has guided Webslinger through all five starts this year.

“As Javier has rode him, he understands him a little better. The horse has matured and he is able to be a little closer to the pace,” Casse said.

A $50,000 OBS June 2-Year-Olds in Training and Horses of Racing Age Sale purchase, Webslinger has banked $860,320 through a record of 9-4-2-1.He was bred in Kentucky by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey.

John Oxley and Breeze Easy’s Boppy O, by Bolt d’Oro and out of the graded-stakes placed Scat Daddy mare Pappascat, is a half-brother to graded-stakes winning dirt specialist Pappacap.

Boppy O graduated on debut last May over the Gulfstream Park dirt and made the grade at third asking in his turf debut with a neck score in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 With Anticipation on August 31 at the Spa.

“We’re always looking for the Derby winner, so you look at dirt as the first possibility,” Casse said. “He ran fine on the dirt, but we worked him on the grass prior to his race at Saratoga and I was expecting him to run well on it.”

The talented bay has hit the board in 4-of-5 starts this season, entering from a rallying one-length score in the one-mile Jersey Derby on June 3 over Talk of the Nation and third-place Turf King, who exited that event to win the Grade 3 Marine on Sunday at Woodbine. Talk of the Nation is entered in Friday’s Grade 3 Manila here for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.

“He’s had some troubled trips and he’s another one that’s matured,” Casse said. “His last race was really good, beating a good horse of Shug’s and ran a good Beyer number [93]. He’s a horse on the improve.”

The $190,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase was bred in Florida by Rustlewood Farm.

Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown will seek his first Belmont Derby score when he sends out Robert V. LaPenta, e Five Racing Thoroughbreds and Madaket Stables’ Kalik [post 8, Irad Ortiz, Jr.] and Klaravich Stables’ Redistricting [post 10, Flavien Prat].

Kalik, by Collected, is a perfect 3-for-3 this campaign led by a frontrunning score last out in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Pennine Ridge where he set splits of 24.69 seconds, 49.17 and 1:13.01 over the firm ground en route to a one length score in a final time of 1:47.85.

Bred in Ontario by Peter A. Berglar Racing Interests and Anderson Farms, Kalik was purchased for $200,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

Redistricting, by Kingman, earned an 87 Beyer Speed Figure for his impressive 4 3/4-length debut maiden score here on June 3 traveling 1 1/16-miles over firm turf. With Irad Ortiz, Jr. up., Redistricting settled five lengths off the pace in fifth position before launching his bid three-eighths from home. He made a six-wide run from the top of the lane and stopped the clock in a final time of 1:40.79.

The British-bred $199,699 Tattersalls October Yearling Sale purchase is out of the Montjeu mare Cascata – a full-sister to multiple Group 1-winning multimillionaire St Nicholas Abbey, who captured the 2012 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will saddle the late-running Far Bridge [post 5, Jose Ortiz], who sports a record of 4-2-2-0 and has never been further than one length from victory.

The English Channel colt won his first two starts in the care of trainer Christophe Clement traveling 1 1/16-miles over turf at Gulfstream Park. He closed from deep to graduate in January over the well-regarded Carl Spackler ahead of an optional-claiming romp on March 11.

Initially campaigned as a Kentucky homebred for Calumet Farm, he was purchased privately by LSU Stables and transferred to Pletcher, finishing a nose back of Webslinger in the American Turf in May. Last out, Far Bridge was a closing second to Kalik in the Pennine Ridge where he lacked racing room behind horses at the top of the lane.

“He lost position around the turn and then had to weave his way through traffic. He closed well, he just lost critical position,” Pletcher said. “He didn’t run the turn very well that day and that kind of cost him the position he needed to be within striking range behind a slow pace.” 

Cheyenne Stable’s Mondego [post 9, Joel Rosario] will make his stakes debut for Clement.

Mondego enters with a pair of wins traveling nine furlongs over firm Belmont turf, graduating at third asking with a gate-to-wire score against older company in May ahead of a stalking effort last out on June 2 in an optional-claimer against fellow sophomores.

“It’s a bit ambitious, but he’s done well. He won his last two. This might be a good time to be ambitious,” said Clement, who won this event in 2020 with Gufo. “He’s very versatile and I think he can stay the mile and a quarter.”

The Lope de Vega bay, bred in Great Britain by Car Colston Hall Stud, is out of the Dansili mare Free Rein, who is a half-sister to multiple Group 1-winner Reckless Abandon.

Trainer Kenny McPeek won this race last year with Classic Causeway, who was dismissed at odds of 26-1, but bested well-backed European stock with a gate-to-wire score over favored Nations Pride and second-choice Stone Age.

McPeek returns with another outside chance in the stakes-placed Mendelssohns March [post 1, Dylan Davis] – a winner via disqualification in his turf debut in February. The Mendelssohn colt won on dirt next up at Oaklawn Park in March before an off-the-board effort in the Grade 1 Blue Grass in April over the Keeneland main track.

Mendelssohns March, bred in Kentucky by Don Alberto Corporation, returned to turf for his last two outings when facing the victorious Webslinger, finishing a troubled ninth in the Grade 2 American Turf and a prominent second in the Audubon.

The $110,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase is out of the Galileo mare Unappeased, who is a half-sister to Grade 1-winner Sligo Bay.

Andrew N. Warren and Rania Warren’s Wizard of Westwood [post 7, John Velazquez] travels outside of California for the first time for trainer Michael McCarthy.

The Tu Brutus colt, a $20,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, captured the 10-furlong Cinema in gate-to-wire fashion last out on June 11 at Santa Anita.

Wizard of Westwood, sporting a perfect in-the-money record of 5-2-2-1, is out of the Purge mare Figrare, who is a half-sister to millionaire Japanese graded stakes winner Danon Legend. His third dam, Caressing, produced West Coast, who took the 2017 Grade 1 Travers en route to honors as that year’s Champion 3-Year-Old Colt.

Rounding out a talented field is George Krikorian’s Kentucky homebred Cyber Ninja [post 3, Junior Alvarado], a last-out maiden winner traveling 11 furlongs over turf here for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. The Arrogate colt is out of the graded-stakes placed Kitten’s Joy mare Famous Alice, who is a half-sister to Venezuelan-bred millionaire Piacenza.