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A strong field of nine is set to clash in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.2 million Belmont Derby at Belmont Park. Two European invaders will face America’s top 3-year-old turf runners, and the star power is out from a training prospective, as well, with big guns Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher, and Aidan O’Brien in the field. The event is slated for race 10 on the card and has a local post time of 6:50 PM ET. NBC will televise three stakes on the day: the Grade 3 Dwyer, the Grade 2 Belmont Sprint, and the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks, while Fox Sports 2 will show the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap and the Belmont Derby.
In many ways, the race could come down to a rematch between the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge Stakes winner Catholic Boy and the runner-up Analyze It. After a successful 2-year-old campaign on the turf, Catholic Boy tried dirt in his last start of 2017, dominating rivals to take home the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes. That race propelled him onto the Kentucky Derby trail, but he failed to fire his best in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes and the Grade 1 Florida Derby. Trainer Jonathan Thomas put him back on the turf in the Pennine Ridge, where he showed tremendous heart to edge out Analyze It at the wire. You can find much more in-depth information on Thomas and Catholic Boy in Mike “Saratoga Slim” Spector’s article Generation Now: Thomas & Catholic Boy Persevere Towards Belmont Derby, including this quote:
“(The Pennine Ridge) looked like a pretty tough race for him on paper, but he bounced out of it quickly,” said Thomas. “He got right back in the feed tub and is showing a lot of good energy, so we thought we would keep him on a good schedule (with three works in between races), and he seems to be appreciating it. When a horse bellies down like that to win, you always kind of wonder what the ramifications will be and if they’ll need a little more time off or not. He ran a career-best sheet number and it was a good race. You never know what you’ll be dealing with on the backside of that, but he took it really well.”
While Analyze It was defeated in the Pennine Ridge, that doesn’t mean he should be counted out in this spot. After all, he looked in mid-stretch like he was home free before Catholic Boy re-rallied and caught him at the wire. The loss was his defeat, but the colt still ran very well, and trainer Chad Brown is no stranger to winning big time-turf races, as he usually finds the winner’s circle every weekend in turf events across the country. The New York-based trainer said that the Point of Entry Colt is right on track following a strong recent workout.
“He went great, so he’s on target for the Derby,” Brown said. “I thought he ran into a really good horse in Catholic Boy in the Pennine Ridge. He ran very well; our horse had no excuse. He might’ve had a little time between races where I could’ve had him a little better. It’s not an excuse, he had every chance to win, but I believe this horse can move forward now that he has some recent fitness in him. I might’ve given him a little too much to do after the (Grade 3) Transylvania heading into that race.”
The full field for the Belmont Derby from the rail out: Channel Cat, Encumbered, Analyze It, Hunting Horn, Maraud, Kingstar, Catholic Boy, Hawkish, and My Boy Jack.
#3 Analyze It – He looked like he was easily the best 3-year-old turf horse in the country but was stunned last time out. After looking as though he was going to go right past Catholic Boy, he made some contact with him, which seemed to upset Catholic Boy because he re-rallied to win by a neck. Analyze It still remains a major player in this race, though, as that loss was his first career defeat. He’ll be ready to fire a big one here.
#4 Hunting Horn – O’Brien ships in this talented colt off of short rest as he was last seen winning the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes by 4 1/2 lengths at Royal Ascot on June 21st. That race was contested at the same distance as this event, which makes this horse extremely dangerous. The turnaround is very quick, but it is hard to doubt a world-class trainer like O’Brien.
#7 Catholic Boy – Much was already said about him, so just know – this is a serious contender.
#8 Hawkish – This gelding certainly opened everyone’s eyes with a dominating 2-length score in the Grade 2 Penn Mile last time out. That sort of effort will be tough to beat in this spot, but he also stretches out in distance here to 1 1/4 miles. That provides a question mark, but there is no doubt that the talent is there, and his connections know how to win big turf races.
#9 My Boy Jack – In a surprising move, My Boy Jack returns to the turf after running well on the dirt all year long. He picked up victories on the Kentucky Derby trail in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes and the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes before finishing a fast-closing fifth in the Kentucky Derby. However, he has been solid on the turf, too; he won the $100,000 Zuma Beach Stakes as a 2-year-old. Look for him to be flying late.
#6 Kingstar – This French shipper will give American racing a try after an overseas allowance victory last time out. He has won two of three this year, and his lone loss was a runner-up effort in a stakes event. He is no stranger to running long, either, as his last race was even farther than this one. You must always respect European turf shippers.
#5 Maraud – His 2018 has been up-and-down. At times, he looks great, but other times, he disappoints. Two races back, he dominated rivals in the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs, but then he finished a poor fourth in the Penn Mile last time out. He is due to run a good one here, and perhaps the extended distance will be to his liking.
#1 Channel Cat – He banged heads with the best horses in the division in his last two starts but just hasn’t been close to winning. However, he will like this added distance, and he can at least be a factor in the underneath positions.
#2 Encumbered – At one point last year, he was considered the best Southern California juvenile on turf, but he went backwards after a failed attempt on the dirt. He then struggled in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and wasn’t seen again until his 2018 debut in the Pennine Ridge last time out. That race didn’t go well for him, either, so he must improve here in order to have any shot.
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