Belmont Stakes (Grade 1) 1m 4f - 11.44pm Sky Racing
ALL eyes on New York tonight after a quiet weekend of domestic racing. There are eight Grade 1 contests up for decision.
While runners are scarce here too, the quality is deep.
Can the shock Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike hit the target again in the Group 1 Belmont Stakes over the mile and a half? Apparently, he has been played recordings of “New York, New York” in his stable at the track this week to get familiar with the occasion!
Seven rivals take him on with the filly Nest adding another dimension.
There is no doubt that Rich Strike won the Kentucky Derby on merit but he did benefit from a crazy fast early pace which left the leaders vulnerable. Mo Donegal and Barber Road, fifth and sixth take him on again, while the Preakness third Creative Minister could be the improver.
Still a maiden in April, his three-and-a-half-length placing behind victorious Early Voting and runner-up Epicenter gives him a big say here.
Mo Donegal looked a bit unlucky in the Kentucky Derby, having to come wide off the bend while Rich Strike went inside to the rail. That said, he wasn’t making ground as fast as the winner in the final furlong. His previous win over Preakness winner Early Voting in the Wood Memorial looks better now and the longer distance looks like it should suit even though he is a son of the speedy Uncle Mo.
We The People is the other latecomer to the classic scene. His win in his prep race for this in the nine-furlong Grade 3 Peter Pan by 10 lengths was hugely impressive, but a few questioned the form as it came on a sealed track after rain, so he does still have questions to answer at the top level.
Nest was a two-length second to Secret Oath in the Kentucky Oaks, but as a daughter of Curlin, famously beaten in the Belmont by the filly Rags To Riches also trained by Todd Pletcher, she is most worthy of consideration. She is also out of a mare by A.P. Indy, who won this in 1992, so her pedigree shouts Belmont Stakes.
It would be great for the sport to have the Kentucky Derby winner, trainer Eric Reed and rider Sonny Leon on the winners’ podium again, but this is a much tougher race. Creative Minister is the selection, with the filly Nest putting up a bold show.
SELECTION: CREATIVE MINISTER Next Best: Nest
It’s time to Speak up – is Flightline the real deal?
Rest of the Card
THE action begins at 5.33pm with the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes for fillies over a mile where last year’s top two-year-old filly Echo Zulu is taken on by the Brad Cox-trained Matareya who is on a four-timer, and Godolphin’s homebred daughter of Pioneerof the Nile comes into the race off a decisive win in the Grade 2 Eight Belles Stakes at Churchill Downs on the Derby card. She has won two graded stakes by healthy margins going seven furlongs.
Echo Zulu finished fourth in the Longines Kentucky Oaks. Cutting back to the Acorn’s mile distance is likely to suit last year’s Eclipse champion two-year-old filly.
The Grade 1 Just A Game is over a turf mile for fillies at 6.04pm and the five runners include three from Chad Brown and Peter Brandt. French import Speak Of The Devil, a Grade 2 winner at Churchill Downs looks the one.
The seven-furlong Woody Stephens (7.22pm) offers some of the colts from the classic trail a Grade 1 opportunity. Jack Christopher was among the top two-year-olds and returned with a win over a mile at Churchill Downs and should see off Morello.
There are only five females in the Ogden Phipps Stakes at 8.05 but it’s one of the races of the night. The outstanding Eclipse Award-winning Letuska takes on Grade 1 winners Malathaat and Clairiere and the improving Grade 2 winner Search Results.
Letruska has run only one bad race – at the end of the season in the Breeders’ Cup – since December 2020 with five Grade 1 wins in that period including this race last year.
She had to be kept up to her work to see off Clairere in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom last time but can add to her illustrious tally here again. In 13, and Wesley Ward supplies the favourite over the six furlongs in Arrest Me Red. Graham Motion’s Irish-bred True Valour can get among the placings.
At 9.43 comes the big curtain raiser to the main event and the most intriguing race of the evening, the Met Mile. Is Flightline, with his short career and huge speed ratings on the west coast, the real deal?
Speakers Corner is in the top five in the current World Racehorse Rankings. Who gives? Add Aloha West as the Breeders’ Cup winner from last season, and Happy Saver is a Grade 1 winner, and it’s a let them roll race.
Off just three runs, and wide-margin wins, Flightline was the joint top-rated sprinter in the world last year on 124, along with Nature Strip, in the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings.
The small field should suit Flightline but it’s a big ask to come into so hot a contest when off the track since December when he won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita by 11 and a half lengths. Plus, this is a tougher track and a furlong longer.
“You really wouldn’t try this with a normal horse, but he’s not a normal horse. He’s an exceptional horse. It’s not ideal, but with his ability and what he can do, we think he’s the whole package,” trainer Sadler told BloodHorse this week. We’ll see.
The Grade 1 Carter Handicap success was impressive by Speakers Corner and he might just be stronger this time.
Chad Brown runs four - Rockemperor, Tribhuvan, Adhamo and L’Imperator - in the Grade 1 Manhattan Stakes where Graham Motion’s Highland Chief bids to follow up his Grade 1 Man O’War Stakes success where he held off Gufo by a length. The second is favourite to reverse that result and might be stronger here.
The eight-year-old Channel Maker can never be ruled out, but Brendan Walsh’s Godolphin colt Santin is also prominent in the betting after his Grade 1 success in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs and could be the one to side with.