Belmont Derby Preview

Belmont Derby Features Competitive International Field

The Stars and Stripes Festival starts Saturday at Belmont Park, and a pair of prestigious Grade I races highlight the 6-stakes race card. The Belmont Derby got a purse increase in 2014 and this year’s race is run at 1 1/4 miles and has a $1,250,000 purse. A highly competitive, international field of 13 sophomore colts will take to the inner turf.

Aidan O’Brien is an Irish horse racing trainer in Ireland who has won 22 percent of his horses races over the past 90 days covering more than 300 races. He has a pair of fine colts in here including Deauville (4-1), who will break from the outside post and cut back to 10 furlongs following his out of the money finish at 12 furlongs last time out. First time Lasix and Deauville is bred for distance and was second by a neck going 1 ¼ miles May 12 while rallying to slow fractions. Long Island Sound (7/2) is the ‘A’ entry for O’Brien who was third last out in the Grade III Tercentary going 10 furlongs last out at Royal Ascot. Those Grade III races are closer in class to a Grade I in the U.S. The Kentucky-bred colt by War Front was an $800,000 weanling purchase and is a top contender here. Humphrey Bogart (5-1) is another European horse who finished in front of Deauville when fifth in the Investec Derby at 25-1 June 4.

The top American choices in the 13-horse field are Camelot Kitten, Beach Control, Airoforce and longshot Highland Sky. Camelot Kitten is one of three Chad Brown-trained colts running, and the kitten has won his last two races. That includes this race’s local prep June 4 in the Pennine Ridge Stakes going 1 1/8 miles as the 9/5 favorite. He somehow went off at 18-1 when he crossed the finish line first by a head May 7 at Churchill in the American Turf. Irad Ortiz Jr. stays aboard for the ride.

Camelot Kitten (5-1) has a pair of wins and three places in six starts with both wins over Belmont’s inner turf course.

He likes Belmont,” said Brown, noting the colt’s local record. “And he is undefeated with the addition of blinkers.”

American Turf runner up Beach Patrol (12-1) can turn the tables this time and was the 5-1 third choice that day. Surgical Strike (15-1) can close in here as he did to finish third in that race May 7. The circuits leading rider Jose Ortiz takes the mount with a shot to surprise. Highland Sky (8-1) continues to improve in his 3-year-old season, and he was coming fast and furious down the lane running the final 1/8 mile in 11.1 seconds to finish second to Camelot Kitten in the Pennine Ridge as the 5/2 second choice.

Airoforce (10-1) 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.

Airoforce stretches to this longer distance for the first time, but is expected to enjoy the extra ground. “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.”

NBC will provide live coverage from 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm, ET.  The Belmont Derby, Belmont Oaks and Suburban are slated to be broadcast live.  The audio is available for free on the NYRA website, and you can bet the races online at TwinSpires.

Belmont Park — Race 8 — G1 Belmont Derby Invitational– One and one-quarter miles on Inner Turf — post time 4:38 PM ET

Lady Eli

Lady Eli Steadily Improving In Recovery

Undefeated four-year old filly, Lady Eli, returned to work at Belmont Park over the weekend as she makes her comeback from the laminitis that has held her out of competition for an entire year. The Sheep Pond Partners product covered four furlongs in :52 1/5. It was her first work since March 21 at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida. Thankfully, everything seemed to go well and it won’t be long before we see this legend back on the track.

Trainer Chad Brown was quick to pump the brakes on the excitement. “She went fine,” the trainer noted. ” It was a slow work—about :52 and change—but we just wanted to stretch her legs and see how she reacted. Next we we’ll start to pick it up with her. We’re being careful with her because we have a long way to go.”

There was buzz in the air back in the spring when reports emerged that the Lady Eli would participate in the Beaugay Stakes on May 14th, but Brown and his team noticed some immflamuation that caused them to rest the champion further. “We backed off and gave her some time walking. We took our time with her and then moved her to New York,” Brown recalled. “Since she arrived at Belmont, she has been jogging and walking, and her tendons have been good. We gave her a little extra galloping to make sure she had enough foundation.”

The plan for now is to get her back to Saratoga Racecourse and determine her next competition. “She will go to Saratoga,” Brown continued. “We kept her here last summer because she was battling laminitis. If we’re going to run her at Saratoga we’d like to get her settled in up there. Hopefully if everything goes well by end of July, she’ll have a handful of works under her belt.”

Since making her maiden special weight debut in August 2014, Lady Eli has gone on to win the Miss Grillo, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filles Turf, Appalachian, Wonder Again and the Belmont Oaks. With her recovery well on its way, it will only be a matter of time before we see her on the track doing what she does best.


West Virginia Purse Reductions in Store

Revenue generated by video lottery terminals (VLT) at West Virginia racetracks will vary, but one thing for certain is that purse accounts will be taking another hit due to a legislature-mandated reduction that is meant to support the 2016-2017 fiscal budget.

Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort is looking at a hit of almost $500,000 in purse funds. Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races is facing an even bigger financial hit in the sum of $1 million. Additionally, two dog tracks are looking at a combined loss of between $500,000 to $600,000. The numbers are based off of of discussions had a during a West Virginia Racing Commission meeting recently.

“Overall, the numbers stay the same (as the last cycle), but depending on how VLTs perform at each track the numbers will fluctuate,” said West Virginia Racing Commission Executive Director Joe Moore.

VLT-generated funds have shifted from purse accounts by the state legislature for about the last ten years in order to pay for other programs.

At Charles Town, purses have averaged $140,992/day through July 3rd. That is a 10.5 percent loss during the same period in 2015. Mountaineer purses are also down during the same period. This past year they were $83,699/day, which is six percent less than last year. The numbers are courtesy of The Jockey Club Informations System.

The numbers are even worse when compared to 2006, a time before casino gambling in Ohio and just went Pennsylvania casinos were beginning. In the first half of 2006, Charles Town averaged $198,890/day in purses, while Mountaineer was at $149,929. Those are decreases of 29 percent and 44 percent compared to today, respectively.

Is Nyquist ready to return to winning?

Nyquist Ready For Travers or San Diego

Is Nyquist ready for a trip back to the winner’s circle? That’s the question on everyone’s mind as the three-year old champion continues his preparations for the high-end summer stakes. He continued to breeze at Santa Anita in convincing fashion and all signs point to a long-term plan of the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Where the Reddam Racing prodigy ends up in between now and then is the other question’s everyone’s begging to be answered.

“I’m going to meet with [Paul Reddam] on Wednesday, so we should know more Thursday,” O’Neill said. “You can circle a race like the Derby when you’re heading that way, but that’s not the case now. You’re at a point where you’re going to run him when he’s right.”

Slow playing Nyquist’s plans has always been the strategy, and it’s especially pertinent given what happened at the 2016 Preakness Stakes. The previously undefeated horse not only finished third after failing to properly navigate a sloppy track, he also came down with a fever that took him out of the Belmont. Whether that fever was a result of the travel schedule, the intensity of the Triple Crown or the bad conditions at Pimlico on that weekend is an unanswered question. Keeping Nyquist ready on the west coast will make his pathway to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita that much easier.

The obvious choices with Nqyuist ready remain the Travers Stakes or the San Diego Handicap.

“When you say a specific race and it doesn’t work out, there is a lot of second-guessing, so I don’t know if my stress level can handle being painted in a corner. We’ll let the horse tell us and hopefully it will be soon.”

With Nyquist ready, horse players around the world are ready to get back behind him. He has not lost our faith yet and with a trainer like O’Neill at the helm you can rest assured that he’ll be the horse to beat no matter which prep race he chooses on route to the world championships and the biggest race in North America.

Off The Tracks Wins Mother Goose

Off the Tracks Goes Wire-to-Wire in Mother Goose Victory

A strong group of four fillies headlined the $300,000 Grade I Mother Goose Stakes Saturday, and Off the Tracks was expected to have a solid shot for trainer Todd Pletcher. She broke sharply and never lost the lead as the 3-1 third choice in Saturday’s 1 1/16 mile feature race at Belmont. The Bay filly by Curlin went through swift splits and cruised home to win by 3 1/2 lengths in a final time of 1:41.01.

Jockey Jose Ortiz was aboard and he held off his brother Irad riding runner-up Lewis Bay. Lightstream and Joel Rosario finished third while race favorite Rachel’s Valentina, also trained by Pletcher, was a disappointing fifth and never a factor.

Off the Tracks’ second victory in graded stakes company was rewarding for his trainer, and he paid $8.10, $3.60 and $2.70. Pletcher will now give her a lot of consideration for the Spa’s premier 3-year-old filly classic, the Grade 1 Alabama on Aug. 20.

“Even though the fractions were very fast, the track seemed to be playing pretty fast today. I was a little concerned going as fast as they were, but she seemed to be doing it comfortably and in good rhythm. I was happy to see her have something left to finish,” Pletcher said.

After the race, Pletcher was uncertain concerning Rachel Valentina’s performance. “I really don’t have a great explanation… It looked like she was in a decent spot, but Johnny seemed like he had to start asking her for a lot earlier than you would expect him to. We’ll see how she comes out of it and try to regroup.”

New Turf Course Installed at Santa Anita

June 29th saw the completion of a new turf course installation at Santa Anita Park that will be ready for use at their fall meet beginning on September 30th. When you factor in the the hillside component, the turf course at Santa Anita covers exactly nice acres of surfaced area. The Bandera Bermuda turf mixture used on the track was grown 120 miles east of Santa Anita in La Quinta, California.

“This has been a major undertaking and we’re very pleased with how the entire project has progressed,” said Senior Vice President of West Coast operations for The Stronach Group Joe Morris. “The hillside portion of the course was completed about three weeks ago and the oval was finished late yesterday. This particular turf has proven very resilient in our immediate area and right now, with the warm temperatures we’ve been experiencing, conditions are optimal for fast growth.

“The hillside has already begun to root, so that’s great news. About 40% of our races are run on grass, so this project is obviously a huge priority for us, our customers and horsemen.

“We’ve been told that we’d be able to run on it in 45 days, but with the installation completed on time, we’ll have 90 days before we have horses competing on it. We’re excited about opening day on Sept. 30 and we’re looking forward to welcoming the best horses in the world here for the Breeders’ Cup in November.”

Santa Anita is currently in the midst of a 40-day track meet which will end on July 10th.