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ELMONT, NY – A quartet of invading runners is poised to continue the European dominance of their American divisional counterparts in Saturday’s $1 million Jockey Club Derby at Belmont Park.
The Jockey Club Derby is a 1 1/2-mile turf route restricted to 3-year-olds that serves as the penultimate event on a 10-race card with a local post time of 5:45 PM. The race is also a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, awarding an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar this November.
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Here’s a look at the full field for the Jockey Club Derby:
1. Tango Tango Tango 12/1 – He stretches out beyond 1 1/16 miles for the first time and drops the blinkers that he wore in his past 2 starts, the American Derby (broke his maiden) and the Bruce D. Stakes (G1) (second). Expect top turf rider Flavien Prat to utilize the Jack Sisterson trainee’s best weapon – his early turn of foot – and try lulling this seemingly pace-less field to sleep on the backstretch.
“We pulled the blinkers off to see if we can get him relaxed and get him the distance, and we have a big positive with having Flavien Prat aboard,” Sisterson said. “We’d like to see him switch off a touch more. The removal of the blinkers will get him to switch off. I’d be shocked if he’s not on the lead tomorrow, especially drawing the rail. Not sure what (Bolshoi Ballet) will do, but I think we’ll get an easy lead and hopefully take them all the way.”
2. Yibir 2/1 – Trainer Charlie Appleby ships this multiple overseas Group stakes champion hoping to win his third American Grade 1 in 2021 after Althiqa and Summer Romance finished 1-2 in the Just a Game and the Diana. This gelding won 2 of his past 3 starts going at least this far against strong fields and he’s a full brother to the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) runner-up Wild Illusion.
“I think the plan will be to get cover early and carry himself into the race and make one run,” said travelling assistant Chris Connett. “We’ve always thought he had (Grade 1) type of talent in him. He’s just a bit of a character, hence why he’s been gelded. He has phenomenal talent and when things fall right for him, he can be any kind of horse.”
3. Tokyo Gold 8/1 – This French-bred colt dominated Group 2 company in Italy to earn a shot in the Belmont Derby (G1), where he closed from last to finish second behind returning rival Bolshoi Ballet. His win 2 starts back came when sitting nearer to the early pace and getting first jump, so expect Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to give the horse a closer trip in his second time aboard.
“Velazquez didn’t know this horse,” trainer Satoshi Kobayashi told Daily Racing Form’s David Grening. “Even he admitted after the race he wanted better position.”
4. Soldier Rising 5/2 – This British-bred gelding put together a 4-2-2-0 record in France before being purchased privately and sent to American trainer Christophe Clement, who showed tremendous faith pushing him into the deep end for the Saratoga Derby (G1). He finished a rallying second and has every reason to improve in his second start stateside under returning top rider Irad Ortiz Jr.
“I think (the Saratoga Derby winner) got first run at us,” said Clement assistant Christophe Lorieul. “We got through at the rail, but I’m not sure it would have made a difference. We were probably second best that day. … The distance is not an issue. Obviously, the competition will be tough. We’re happy with the horse and he looks great.”
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5. Step Dancer 20/1 – He returned to the winner’s circle last time out when rallying to defeat New York-bred stakes rivals in a 1-mile inner turf route at Saratoga, his first victory since defeating open company in last October’s 1 1/16-mile Awad Stakes. This is a major class test and he’ll have to run beyond 1 1/16 miles for the first time, but English Channel is his damsire, so his pedigree says he can.
“Everything you see about him in the morning gives you confidence,” trainer Barclay Tagg said regarding the step up. “He’s a hard-running horse. He likes to do it. I don’t know if he’s a great horse or not, but I have a lot of confidence in him. He tries every time.”
6. Experienced 15/1 – He takes a big step up in class after finishing fifth in the 1 1/8-mile Virginia Derby (G3) in his third career start, a disappointing result after he began his career with a debut victory and then missed in the Bald Eagle Derby by 3/4 of a length. His running style – taking back and launching one big run – makes him pace-dependent, which puts him up against it in this tough spot.
7. Slicked Back 12/1 – He won his turf debut against Indiana Grand allowance rivals 2 starts back, then rallied to finish second beaten 3/4 of a length in the Virginia Derby. This Brad Cox trainee has sneaky-good breeding for this race setup and he’s shown tactical speed that will allow Luis Saez to place him wherever he wants, but this is by far the toughest field that he’s seen in his 4-race career.
8. Bolshoi Ballet 5/2 – He suffered a cut leg and lost as the 6/5 favorite of the Epsom Derby (G1) but rebounded with a strong victory in the Belmont Derby next out while making his American debut. He was fourth in the Saratoga Derby last out after an odd early trip and he scratched out of a French Group 2 last weekend due to an irregularity with his vaccination record, forcing him to redirect here.
“He won at a mile and 1/4 here, so that suited him, but he’s definitely a better horse going farther,” said travelling assistant T.J. Comerford. “I think the wider turns suit him well. He won here 2 starts back and seemed to go around here over a shorter distance (in the 1 3/16-mile Saratoga Derby). His last start was a good experience for him. He’s won here and has form here, so that’s always a big help.”
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