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ELMONT, NY – LECH Racing Limited’s Baron Samedi will seek to parlay his winning form in Europe when traveling stateside as the lone international contestant in Friday’s seventh running of the $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup (G2) at 2 miles over the Widener turf.
European stamina has proven to be superior in the grueling endurance test, as the last three victors of the Belmont Gold Cup invaded from across the pond with Red Cardinal (2017), Call to Mind (2018), and Amade (2019).
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Trained by Joseph O’Brien, Baron Samedi began his career with 5 unplaced efforts, but once gelded and stretched out considerably in distance, the son of Harbour Watch displayed a notable turnaround in form. He conveyed his newfound winning ways in August at Cork Racecourse going 10 furlongs over heavy ground.
Such prosperity progressed into grouped stakes company when defeating subsequent Group 1 winner Mare Australis in the Prix du Conseil de Paris (G2) on October 25 at Longchamp Racecourse. Six months later, he handled his 2-mile debut with flying colors when defeating Irish Derby (G1) winner Santiago in the Vintage Crop (G3) at Navan Racecourse, where he earned a 112 rating.
Baron Samedi has shown adaptability in track conditions, forging a 6-race win streak over turf labeled heavy, soft, and good.
“He’s been a nice, progressive horse into this season,” O’Brien said. “He’s a horse that will stay well. Tactically and ground wise, he’s shown that he is quite versatile. He was a relatively cheap purchase of a foal. They bought him for very little money. As he has matured physically, he’s really matured. With more distance, he’s gotten better.”
Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who piloted inaugural Belmont Gold Cup winner Charming Kitten in 2014, has the call from post 8.
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Wertheimer et Frere’s Ziyad will be looking for his first North American victory for trainer Graham Motion.
Previously based in France for trainer Carlos Laffon-Parais, the 6-year-old son of Rock of Gibraltar was Group 1-placed behind accomplished runners Coronet and Way to Paris in Europe. Ziyad was a Group 2 winner in France before making his North American debut when a close third in the Canadian International (G1) in October 2019 at Woodbine.
In 3 starts for Motion, Ziyad has come close but is still in search of his first North American triumph. He made his debut for his current conditioner when third, beaten 2 lengths in the Sycamore (G3) in October and rounded out the trifecta once more in the Red Smith (G3) in November at Aqueduct. Following a six-month layoff, he was sixth last out in the Man o’ War (G1) on May 8 at Belmont Park.
Ziyad did not quite go the 2-mile distance when raced in Europe but was second going 1 7/8 miles against Group 2 company at Longchamp in September 2018.
“He ran close to that distance in Europe and ran well. It’s appealing. I worked him Saturday morning and he did very well,” Motion said.
Jockey Manny Franco will be aboard from post 3.
Favored Red Knight Surges to Win Sycamore
Trainer Brad Cox will send out Anstu Stables’ Kinenos following a sharp optional claiming win going 1 1/4 miles over Belmont Park’s inner turf. The son of Empire Maker acquired black type once in 4 starts at stakes level when third to graded stakes winner Fancy Liquor in the Caesars in August at Indiana Grand Race Course.
Cox, who will saddle last year’s Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Essential Quality in the Belmont Stakes (G1) on Saturday, compared a 2-mile endeavor with Kinenos to racing an unproven 3-year-old in the ‘Test of the Champion’.
“It’s kind of like the 3-year-olds going a mile and 1/2 in that you don’t know until you try,” Cox said. “But he’s been a horse where it’s been the longer, the better. This is about as long as it gets, so we’ll see how he handles it.”
Kinenos will leave from post 7 under Jose Lezcano.
Essential Quality Draws Post 2, Named 2/1 Morning Line Favorite for Belmont Stakes
Never short on quality turf stock, trainer Mike Maker vies for a second Belmont Gold Cup score after saddling Da Big Hoss to victory in 2016.
On behalf of Paradise Farms Corporation and Douglas Staudacher, Maker sends out graded stakes-placed Conviction Trade [post 4, Irad Ortiz Jr.] and Ajourneytofreedom [post 9, Joel Rosario].
Conviction Trade, a 5-year-old son of Exchange Rate, was third after setting the pace in the John B. Connally (G3) on January 31 at Sam Houston. He tested the 2-mile waters in his previous effort when displaying the frontrunning fashion, falling just 3/4 of a length shy of victory in the H. Allen Jerkens on December 26 at Gulfstream Park. He was claimed for $50,000 in September.
Ajourneytofreedom, a 4-year-old son of Hard Spun, was claimed for $80,000 last August. 2 starts back, he was second in the John B. Connally when a late-closing second. He arrives off a fourth-place finish in the Louisville (G3) on May 15 at Churchill Downs.
Rounding out the Maker brigade is Three Diamonds Farm’s Tide of the Sea, who eyes a second graded stakes win. The 5-year-old son of English Channel won his seasonal bow when leading at every point of call in the W. L. McKnight (G3) on January 23 at Gulfstream Park.
Tide of the Sea breaks from post 2 under Flavien Prat.
So High [post 1, Eric Cancel], Fantasioso [post 5, Javier Castellano], and Strong Tide [post 7, Luis Saez] complete the order of finish.
The Belmont Gold Cup will be carded as Race 10 on Friday’s 11-race program. First post is 12:50 p.m.
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