Belmont Park was the place to be last Saturday as their annual Stars and Stripes Festival lived up to the hype once again. Five graded stakes races were contested on the day, and each race was dramatic in its own way. For the second week in a row, it was difficult to pick just three stars of the week; Arlington Park, Delaware Park, Gulfstream Park, and Los Alamitos also had great racing. Let’s see who made the list this week:
1. Catholic Boy
This horse is just a superstar! Catholic Boy would not be denied on Saturday, re-rallying past Analyze It for the second straight time to win the Grade 1 Belmont Derby. Once again, Analyze It took the lead in mid-stretch and looked to be pulling away from Catholic Boy, just like he did in the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge Stakes. However, once again, Catholic Boy said, “Not so fast, my friend” and came fighting back to edge Analyze It right at the wire. This rivalry is great for racing, and hopefully, it continues as we go on throughout the year. Perhaps the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park could be next.
Speed is the name of the game for Diversify, and there is no doubt that when he runs at Belmont Park, he is extra-hard to catch. Right from the gate, jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. wasted no time letting the New York-bred roll to the lead. From there, he put away rivals War Story and Zanotti while setting extremely fast fractions. At the top of the stretch, he had run his opponents off of their feet and still had plenty left in the tank, flying home and stopping the clock in under two minutes for the 1 1/4-mile Grade 2 Suburban Handicap. The win pushes his earnings over the $1 million mark and makes him 9-for-14 in his career. A Grade 1 event at Saratoga, like the Whitney or the Woodward, will be next.
Only the great trainer Aidan O’Brien could pull off something like this. Athena entered the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks off of just six days’ rest, with her last race being overseas. After finishing third in the Group 1 Juddmonte Pretty Polly Stakes, she hopped on a plane, flew halfway across the world, and promptly showed up at Belmont Park to dominate her rivals by 2 1/2 lengths. The achievement is made even more unbelievable due to the fact that this was just her second win in 10 lifetime starts. This type of performance in the United States should mean that more racing in this country is in her future.