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ELMONT, N.Y. – Now in its third edition, the Stars & Stripes Festival will once again be anchored by the Grade 1, $1.25 million Belmont Derby Invitational on Saturday at Belmont Park. Slated as the eighth race on the 11-race card, the 1 ¼-mile inner turf route has drawn a highly competitive, international field of 13 sophomore colts.
The American contingent will be led by a talented trio from trainer Chad Brown, who will send Beach Patrol, Call Provision and Grade 3 Pennine Ridge winner Camelot Kitten. Owned and bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Camelot Kitten has gone two-for-two in graded stakes since adding blinkers, winning the Grade 2 American Turf by a head over Beach Patrol on May 7 at Churchill Downs before turning in a neck victory in the Pennine Ridge June 4 at Belmont.
The accomplished Kitten’s Joy colt boasts three wins and two seconds from six lifetime starts, including two victories over Belmont’s inner turf course. His only off-the-board finish came in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, where he was held wide and faded to finish 12th.
“He likes Belmont,” said Brown, noting the colt’s local record. “And he is undefeated with the addition of blinkers.”
Camelot Kitten will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr. from post 6.
Set to make his third career start, the New York-bred Call Provision rallied from well off the pace in his unveiling against state-breds in April at Aqueduct Racetrack to post a one-length victory. The Lemon Drop Kid gelding followed up with a third-place finish in stakes debut in the Pennine Ridge, checking in a neck behind Camelot Kitten.
“It’s a lot to ask of Call Provision,” Brown acknowledged. “We think he’s a true 1 ¼-mile horse. He ran well in his first career graded stakes. I think he’s an improving horse, moving up.”
Call Provision will leave from post 12 and will be ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
A new addition to the barn, Beach Patrol will be making his second start for Brown following his sixth-place finish in the Grade 3 Penn Mile on June 4. Previously under the care of West Coast-based Phil D’Amato, the Lemon Drop Kid colt finished second to Camelot Kitten in the American Turf after putting up back-to-back wins at Santa Anita earlier this year.
Beach Patrol will have the services of Javier Castellano. The pair will break from post 9.
John Oxley’s Airoforce will look to a major step forward on Saturday for trainer Mark Casse following a game runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Penn Mile. The versatile Colonel John colt was a winner on both grass and dirt as a 2-year-old, garnering attention last fall as an early candidate for the Kentucky Derby. Those plans failed to materialize, however, following poor finishes as the beaten favorite in a pair of Derby preps.
Airoforce returned to his preferred surface in the American Turf on the Kentucky Derby undercard, controlling the early pace before getting reeled in late to finish fourth. In the Penn Mile, Airoforce was forced to take back early after breaking off balance before regrouping with a late charge in the stretch to finish second to stablemate Catch a Glimpse.
“He was off form at the beginning of the year, but he need the race on Derby Day and I thought he had a tough trip in the Penn Mile. I really think he’s sitting on a big one on Saturday,” said Norm Casse, head assistant to his father.
Casse added that Airoforce, who has not raced beyond 1 1/16 miles on the grass, should relish the extra ground of Derby.
“He’s a horse that doesn’t run as well when he gets pressed or whenever the pace is a little hotter,” said Casse. “I think he showed a new dimension last time, that he can sit off of horses. The race, going from a mile to a mile and a quarter, the pace will be a little bit slower, he’ll be able to relax a little bit more early, and I actually think that will actually be better for him.”
Airoforce is set to break from post 8 with Julien Leparoux in the irons.
World-renowned trainer Aidan O’Brien will be represented by a formidable pair of runners in Long Island Sound and Deauville, set to headline the European contingent.
Long Island Sound, a Kentucky-bred colt by War Front, will bring his talents stateside for the first time. An $800,000 weanling purchase, Long Island Sound has amassed three wins from four races since debuting as a 3-year-old in April at Dundalk. Breaking his three-race win streak in his most recent start, Long Island Sound was third in the Group 3 Tercentenary last month at Royal Ascot.
Top Irish jockey Colm O’Donoghue is set to arrive in New York for the assignment. Long Island Sound will break from post 7.
Winner of the Group 3 Tyros and runner-up of the Group 2 Juddmonte Royal Lodge as a 2-year-old, Deauville will look to rebound from his 11th-place finish in the Group 1 Investec Derby on June 4 at Epsom. An Irish-bred son of Galileo, Deauville will be ridden by champion jockey Jamie Spencer from the outside post.
Shoring up the international delegation is Humphrey Bogart for trainer Richard Hannon. The Tagula colt proved a game winner of the Betfred Derby Trial this spring before following up with a fifth-place effort in the Investec Derby. Most recently sixth in the Grade 2 King Edward VII at Royal Ascot, Humphrey Bogart will be ridden by regular jockey Sean Levey from post 10.
Rounding out the field for the Belmont Derby are Toughest ‘Ombre, Surgical Strike, Aquaphobia, Ralis, Highland Sky and Applicator.
With a scheduled post time of 4:38 p.m., the Belmont Derby will kick off the live NBC broadcast from Belmont Park, from 4:30 – 6 p.m., that will also include coverage of the Grade 2, $500,000 Suburban and Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Oaks.
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