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ELMONT, NY – Recent graded stakes champion Du Jour is back in action for new trainer Bill Mott in Saturday’s $1 million Belmont Derby (G1), the headlining event testing 3-year-old males through a 1 1/4-mile inner turf route.
The Belmont Derby is carded as race 9 on an 11-race program that also includes the Belmont Oaks (G1). Approximate post time for the 1 1/4-mile inner turf route is 4:06 PM Eastern.
With previous trainer Bob Baffert suspended from running horses at any NYRA race track, Du Jour debuts for Hall of Famer Mott having won 3 straight, including an ultra-impressive victory in the American Turf Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs last time out. He will be piloted by Flavien Prat for the fourth straight time when he breaks from post 5.
Bolshoi Ballet ships in from Europe for trainer Aidan O’Brien in search of his fourth victory through 6 starts. Last time out, he was seventh in the Cazoo Derby (G1), which turned out to be a very tough race over ground likely much softer than what he likes. The colt will be making his United States debut with Ryan Moore up for the mount, breaking from post 2.
“He’s been training well since the Derby,” said O’Brien’s travelling assistant T.J. Comerford. “Once he has good to firm ground, that makes a difference. I suppose the race wasn’t ideal that day at Epsom. The ground may have gone against him.”
The Todd Pletcher-trained Sainthood grinded out a victory in the local prep race for this event, the Pennine Ridge Stakes (G3) that was taken off the turf. He’ll make his official grass debut in this spot, but his pedigree suggests that he’ll take to the surface well. Joel Rosario will be riding the horse from post 4.
The full field from the rail out: Palazzi, Bolshoi Ballet, Safe Conduct, Sainthood, Du Jour, Hard Love, Tokyo Gold, Cellist, and Hidden Enemy.
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#5 Du Jour – As far as turf 3-year-olds in this country, he looks like the best. His win last time out in the American Turf Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs was spectacular, and that field seemed to be one of the toughest this division has seen this season. If Mott can have the same success with him as Baffert, then he should have every chance to get the job done.
#2 Bolshoi Ballet – Before losing the Cazoo Derby (G1) last time out, he won 3 of 5 starts, including 2 strong Group 3 stakes. He makes his United States debut here, which is always a question mark, but Aidan O’Brien is the master at successfully shipping horses around the world.
#4 Sainthood – Finally, we’ll see what this horse can do on the turf. His connections tried him on the Kentucky Derby trail, where he finished second in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) on synthetic, but after a lackluster Kentucky Derby (G1) effort, he target the Pennine Ridge, but that was rained off the turf. He won that race, but still, we believe his best surface will be the turf.
“His works on the turf indicate that he likes it, and his pedigree certainly suggests that he will like it,” Pletcher said. “He ran well on the synthetic and everything we’ve seen indicates he’ll handle it well. He’s tactical enough that hopefully we can get a bit of cover because I do think his turn of foot, from what we saw in his breezes, is pretty good.”
#6 Hard Love – He’s won 3 of 4 overall, including 2 to kick off his 2021 season. He took home the Woodhaven Stakes 2 starts back before defeating allowance company. Trainer Jonathan Thomas won this race in 2018 with Catholic Boy and has another decent prospect for this year’s event.
“He’s done nothing wrong up to this point,” Thomas said. “Catholic Boy was more of a flashy horse in the morning. Turf, dirt, whatever, he always breezed sharply. He was a much more aggressive horse training in the morning. This one seems to be more laid back and is not a dirt horse. They have some similarities, but let’s just hope that the biggest similarity they have is winning the Belmont Derby.”
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#8 Cellist – He looked good in his last 3 starts, including a gate-to-wire victory last time out in the Audubon Stakes at Churchill Downs. He has a great distance pedigree, being by Big Blue Kitten out of an English Channel mare. That, plus the fact that early speed is playing well on this turf course, makes him dangerous here.
#3 Safe Conduct – He’s a bit lightly-raced compared to some of the other runners, but he hit the board in all 3 turf starts. After defeating allowance runners 2 starts back, e clearly didn’t enjoy the off-turf Pennine Ridge.
“He’s shown speed,” said trainer Philip Serpe. “In his first race, he sat off it. I’d be looking for him to be towards the front somewhere, depending on what the other horses do. I’d expect to see him on the lead or close to the lead. He’s pretty tractable. We’ll let (jockey) Jose Lezcano make that decision.”
#1 Palazzi – This horse always seems to show up with a consistent effort, but he’s had issues finishing the deal in some of his races. He’s won just 2 of 10 starts but hit the board in 6 of those, including hitting the board in 5 of 7 on the turf. His proven class gives him a shot to make some noise here.
#9 Hidden Enemy – It took him a while to break his maiden, but he’s always been competitive in his starts, including the 2 stakes since he won his first race. He was fourth in the American Turf and in the Audubon. Expect him to show up with a decent effort again here.
#7 Tokyo Gold – This is another strong European shipper who adds plenty of intrigue into the race. He is 3 for 7 lifetime, including a very impressive fourth length victory last time out in the Derby Italiano (G2) last time out. If he ships to this country successfully, then he can make some noise.
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