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The Todd Pletcher-trained Far Bridge won the 2023 Belmont Derby (G1) at Belmont Park, earning his 1st victory for the barn after finishing a close 2nd in 2 previous tries. The European invader The Foxes finished 2nd but was unable to catch the winner in time. Is Far Bridge currently America’s top 3-year-old turf router? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
LSU Stables’ Far Bridge endured his share of bad luck when second in two starts at the graded level, but found no trouble in securing an off-the-pace Grade 1 triumph under Jose Ortiz in Saturday’s $750,000 Belmont Derby Invitational, a 10-furlong test for sophomores over the inner turf, at Belmont Park.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Far Bridge enjoyed a rail-skimming trip under expert handling from Ortiz before tipping out in the turn and drawing off to a decisive one-length victory, one that Pletcher said was aided by a cleaner trip after coming up a length and a nose shy with troubled trips in the Grade 2 Pennine Ridge and Grade 2 American Turf, respectively.
“We got a fortunate trip today,” said Pletcher, who also won the Grade 2 Suburban with Charge It earlier on Saturday’s card. “Everything worked out. We were able to save some ground pretty much around both turns, especially the far turn. We knew he had a good closing kick, we just needed to be in position to deliver it. I really liked the way he was moving around the turn and then when he got clear in the stretch, I knew he’d keep coming. We always felt like the added distance was going to be to his advantage.”
Sent from post 5 as the 3-1 second choice, Far Bridge was bumped slightly at the start and settled near the rear of the field as longshot Mondego rushed up on the outside to take charge from the prominent Silver Knott into the first turn through an opening quarter-mile in 23.71 seconds over the firm footing. Wizard of Westwood held third position from Boppy O as the field of 11 spread out in an even line down the backstretch and Far Bridge tucked in along the rail through the half-mile in 50.06 with positions mainly unchanged.
Silver Knott was given his cue by Richard Mullen approaching the turn and was on even terms with Mondego after three-quarters in 1:14.89. Far Bridge, hugging the hedge under a patient Ortiz, began to pick off rivals as the slow-starting post-time favorite The Foxes had his work cut out for him to run on from nearly last and work his was through horses under Oisin Murphy.
Far Bridge cut the corner in the turn and maintained position inside of the advancing Mendelssohns March before angling to the outside of the front duo under right-handed urging from Ortiz with a clear path towards the lead. A stubborn Mondego dug down and refused to yield as Silver Knott tired, but it was Far Bridge who swept past in the final sixteenth to claim victory in a final time of 2:01.75.
The Foxes found his best stride late and showed a strong turn of foot under Murphy to nose out Mondego at the wire for place honors. Webslinger, Silver Knott, Mendelssohns March, Redistricting, Kalik, Wizard of Westwood, Cyber Ninja and Boppy O completed the order of finish.
Ortiz picked up the mount from Joel Rosario, who had ridden the son of English Channel in his last two stakes appearances where the colt raced greenly and placed himself in traffic trouble.
Ortiz, who rode Far Bridge to a victory in an optional claiming tilt in March at Gulfstream Park, said he is a tricky horse to ride and that some equipment changes helped lead to an easier trip Saturday.
“I rode him one time and I think that helped, but every race developed differently,” said Ortiz. “Unfortunately, last time he was in some trouble but the horse doesn’t help himself – he lugs in a little bit and that can get you into trouble and that’s what happened last time. It’s nothing Rosario did wrong, the horse looks for it. We’ve been working for him to try and get him straight. Todd has been working with his bit and I think we finally nailed him.
“He went straight today but I think the trip helped him because he was on the rail, so he can’t lug in no more,” Ortiz added. “He cut the corner on the quarter-pole – beautiful trip – and when I tip him out, he exploded. It was a nice kick in the end.”
The victory was the fourth on the card for Ortiz, who currently holds a four-race lead in the spring/summer meet riding standings over his brother, Irad Ortiz, Jr., with 59 wins heading into Sunday’s card. Ortiz said he is cautiously optimistic he can hold onto his advantage to secure the meet riding title, but recalled the come-from-behind performance by jockey Eric Cancel to overcome a six-race deficit in the final day of the 2021 Aqueduct winter meet and secure the title.
“I’m taking it one race at a time,” said Ortiz. “I’ve put myself in a great position to win it right now, but I remember when Eric won six the last day of Aqueduct and caught Kendrick [Carmouche]. Irad could wake up and win six. So, I take it day-by-day and race-by-race. I put the work in and if I get it, I get it.”
Pletcher added the Grade 1, $600,000 Saratoga Derby Invitational going 1 3/16 miles on August 5 at Saratoga Race Course could be “a logical next target” for Far Bridge. The Saratoga Derby will offer the winner an automatic berth into the Group 1, $AUD 5 million Ladbrokes Cox Plate to be held on October 28 at Moonee Valley Racing Club in Victoria, Australia.
Bred in Kentucky by Calumet Farm, who campaigned the colt through his first two starts for trainer Christophe Clement, Far Bridge banked $412,500 in victory and improved his lifetime record to 5-3-2-0. He returned $8.70 for a $2 win ticket.
The Foxes, trained by Andrew Balding for owner King Power Racing Co., entered from an even fifth-place finish in the Group 1 Epsom Derby on June 3. He made his first start outside of Europe under the watchful eye of Balding’s wife and general manager of their Park House Stables, Anna Lisa Balding, who said the Irish-bred son of Churchill was hampered by the slow start.
“His final furlong must have been a very quick one. He’s run a hell of a race,” Balding said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t break well enough and didn’t deserve to win after breaking like that. He took a while to get into stride. I think the 10 furlongs is the right trip for him. Oisin said he finished with lots of horse under him, so I think he has a Group 1 in him, we just have to find the right one.”
Murphy, who won the Grade 1 Fasig-Tipton Belmont Oaks Invitational aboard Aspen Grove earlier on the card, agreed that The Foxes would have benefitted from a sharper start.
“He stood to jump and was a little slow away,” said Murphy. “I followed the winner but I wanted to sit closer in the run. The winner got first run on me as we turned into the straight and The Foxes picked up brilliantly, but I’d have loved to have been more forward in the run.”
Murphy promptly left Belmont after the race to board a plane to France in attempt of two Group/Grade 1 wins across two continents on the same weekend. He is booked to ride the Balding-trained Chaldean in tomorrow’s Group 1 Haras d’Etreham Prix Jean Prat at Deauville.
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