The field for Saturday's $1,000,000 Jockey Club Derby at Belmont Park is set, and boy do the Euros look awfully strong!
They cover the top four selections in the early morning-line odds: YIBIR, BOLSHOI BALLET, SOLDIER RISING, and TOKYO GOLD. These horses are either visiting from Europe, or at least began their racing careers over there.
Despite the odds in their favor, this creates a great betting opportunity for the right handicapper. Can we find a live longshot that can steal the show? We shall see when we analyze the runners.
Note that we have a Brad Cox entrant who will be piloted by the red-hot Luis Saez. How often do we find the Cox-Saez connection in a top level race, at 12-1?
This should be a fun race. Eight three-year-olds will travel 1 1/2 miles over Belmont Park's Widener tuf, all carrying equal weights.
Since it's a Win and You're In deal, the winner will receive an automatic berth to the $4-million Longines Breeder's Cup Turf (G1) in November at Del Mar.
Here's a look at the field, with asterisks denoting the Euros referred to.
Race 10: The $1,000,000 Jockey Club Derby Invitational — 1 1/2 miles, Turf, Three-year-olds. Post Time is 5:45 PM ET.
TANGO TANGO TANGO: 12-1
YIBIR* : 2-1
TOKYO GOLD* : 8-1
SOLDIER RISING* : 5-2
STEP DANCER: 20-1
SLICKED BACK: 12-1
BOLSHOI BALLET* : 5-2
Godolphin's YIBIR from the two hole is the 2-1 morning-line favorite for trainer Charles Appleby. He's the son of DUBAWI who exits an impressive G2 victory over at York in a 12-furlong contest. That victory was made all the more impressive since, on paper, it came against a tough group—tougher than anything his rivals won against.
YIBIR caught traffic in the stretch drive, but professionally kept to the task and ultimately rallied home for the win. The replay is shown below. Jamie Spencer makes the trip and will ride him for the first time.
Madaket Stables LLC and Michael Bailey's SOLIDER RISING breaks from the four hole and is 5-2 on the morning-line. He'll make his second start off a layoff for trainer Christophe Clement, who converts at a 21% rate under such terms. This FRANKEL colt is brimming with talent. Never worse than second in five lifetime starts, he ran impressively last time out in the Saratoga Derby (G1), which was his U.S. debut. The replay is shown below.
He had a subpar start and trailed by nine lengths, but still rallied strongly to finish second by a length. He was 14-1 that day, and finished ahead of the talented DU JOUR.
There are plenty of closers in this race, but SOLDIER RISING has produced the faster average Late Speed of the group. Eclipse jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. will be on the saddle.
Michael B. Tabor, Mrs John ‘Susan' Magnier, and Derrick Smith's BOLSHOI BALLET is also 5-2 on the morning-line, and breaks from the five hole for trainer Aiden O'Brien. He was the heavy $1.15-to-win favorite last time out in the Saratoga Derby (G1) but finished off the board. There didn't seem to be excuse for that performance; perhaps he just did not feel like running. His past races suggest he prefers turf with moisture and more give, which he didn't have that day.
But even without such conditions, he's probably talented enough to take this field gate to wire. The race lacks a clear-cut front runner such that jockey Ryan Moore might send him straight to the lead. And why not, since he's got the class to wit? BOLSHOI BALLET has faster early speed and leaves the gate quicker than all of his rivals—save for TANGO TANGO TANGO.
Calumet Farm's TANGO TANGO TANGO breaks from the one hole for tor trainer Jack Sisterson, and is 12-1 on the morning-line. Here's a horse stepping up in class and stretching out in distance. It's likely Prat sends him to the front from this rail post. Blinkers get removed from this son of TOURIST, which makes him an interesting wild card. He could be sitting on a big one. Still, he'll have to run a monster race to beat these rivals.
Yoshida Teruya's TOKYO GOLD breaks from the third slot for trainer Kobayashi Satoshi, with a morning-line odds of 8-1. Two months back he finished second to BOLSHOI BALLET at 16-1 in his U.S. Debut, the Belmont Derby (G1), rallying from well off the pace. The replay is shown below.
A Grade 3 winner in 2020 back in France, TOKYO GOLD seems to be returning to his best form. He gets Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez, who does extremely well booting Euros stars to the finish line, regardless of their odds.
Next we have Jerry Marks Stables LLC's SLICKED BACK, who breaks from the seven hole for trainer Brad Cox with a morning-line odds of 12-1. He'll be piloted for the first time by red-hot rider Luis Saez, making an extremely attractive trainer-jockey combination that converts at a 36% rate over the past 60 days.
SLICKED BACK enters off a decent runner-up finish in the Virginia Derby (G3) at Colonial Downs last August. He ran into traffic trouble but still finished well enough to earn new top speed figure. Although he has never run beyond nine furlongs, he should welcome the assignment, drawing upon his dam-line for endurance. He's a $275K-purchased son of QUALITY ROAD out of a GALILEO-mare, EXUBERANTE.
Next up is Hayward Pressman, Diamond M Stable, and Donna Pressman STEP DANCER from the five hole. The son of WAR DANCER is trained by Barclay Tagg and will be ridden by Dylan Davis. He is 20-1 on the morning-line and tasked with his greatest assignment yet. To his credit, STEP DANCER loves the Belmont Park turf and has finished in the money in all four tries over it. Watch him to come flying late as he packs a decent late kick. Still, he'll need to run beyond 8.5 furlongs for the first time, while facing older and more accomplished horses, which he hasn't yet.
Finally, we have Augustin Stable's EXPERIENCED, who breaks from the six hole for trainer Jonathan Thomas. He's a lightly raced son of TEMPLE CITY with an assigned odds of 15-1. Jockey Jose Ortiz will ride for the first time. In his only try at 12-furlongs, he finished a decent second, rallying four-wide and from off the pace. He is stepping way up in class and will need to produce a monster late kick to outfinish his rivals down the stretch.