by NYRA Press Office
John Oxley's Moon Colony will look to handle a stretch out in distance in the 1 ¼-mile Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational on Saturday as part of the Stars & Stripes Racing Festival.
Moon Colony has never run further than 1 1/16 miles in seven previous career starts. But trainer Mark Casse said the Uncle Mo colt has shown signs he can be competitive in facing a full 14-horse field featuring top sophomores domestically and internationally in the opening leg of the New York Racing Association's newly implemented Turf Triple series, offering $5.25 million in purse money for sophomores over three legs at Belmont and Saratoga Race Course.
Moon Colony drew the rail with jockey Julien Leparoux in the irons. Listed at 12-1 on the morning line, he will be making his first start at Belmont Park when he races on the inner turf course.
"I loved the draw," Casse said. "It's an extremely tough race and lot of it can be decided with the trip. I think the key for him is to save some ground and hopefully shut off early and relax."
Moon Colony is coming off a 1 ¼-length win over Casa Creed in the Grade 2 Penn Mile on June 1 at Penn National, earning a career-best 90 Beyer Speed Figure. In his juvenile campaign, he posted two wins in five starts, breaking his maiden at third asking at 1 1/16 miles on October 5 at Keeneland and ended his year with a two-length score at one mile against optional claimers on November 29 at Fair Grounds.
"The mile and a quarter is obviously a question," Casse said. "From an ability-standpoint, he's right there with everybody. It's just a question of him shutting off early and getting the mile and a quarter. With the distance, either they can or they can't. His pedigree maybe suggests it's a bit far for him, but I've seen crazier things happen, and you don't know until you try. There's a lot of money to entice us to figure it out."
Purchased for $400,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September Sale, Moon Colony will be looking for back-to-back stakes victories, having breezed four times at Belmont since May.
"He's coming into the race in good order, and that's all you can ask for," Casse said. "I don't know if there's many in there who have tried the mile and a quarter. We all have the same questions."
Casse also gave a brief update on Grade 1 Preakness winner War of Will, who has not raced since finishing ninth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 8.
He recorded his first breeze since the Belmont on Monday, July 1 going a half mile in 49.40 seconds at Keeneland.
"He's doing wonderful. If all continues to go well, we'll get him a breeze at Churchill and start thinking about Saratoga."
Casse said that War of Will is "50-50" for the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy on July 27 at Saratoga.
One of five stakes as part of the Stars & Stripes Racing Festival, the Belmont Derby will be broadcast live nationwide on NBC. It also starts the Turf Trinity for 3-year-old males and follows with the Grade 1, $1 million Saratoga Derby on August 4 at the Spa and concludes with the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Derby on September 7 at Belmont.
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Blenheim Palace in with a shout as O'Brien's travelers train for Turf Triple
Trainer Aidan O'Brien's Turf Triple contingent cleared quarantine on Thursday morning and enjoyed a brief training session on the dirt training track.
The quartet, led by the vocal Blenheim Palace, included his fellow Belmont Derby contender Cape of Good Hope and the fillies Coral Beach and Just Wonderful, who will start in Saturday's Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational.
"They're all straight forward horses. They're good travelers and seem to be in good form," said O'Brien.
Cape of Good Hope, a full-brother to world-travelling multiple Group/Grade 1-winner Highland Reel, won the Investec Blue Riband Trial in April over 10 furlongs of good turf at Epsom. He finished fourth on June 2 in the Group 1 French Derby and last out was off-the-board in the Group 3 Hampton Court on soft turf at Ascot.
O'Brien said the soft ground last out was not to Cape of Good Hope's liking.
"It probably wasn't a plus for him. He seems to be a very good moving horse and he's come out of Ascot well," said O'Brien. "We think he has enough speed for a mile and a quarter and probably would have enough speed for a bit less, so the mile and a quarter should suit him."
Cape of Good Hope will leave from post 9 under Wayne Lordan.
Blenheim Palace, by Galileo and out of the Storm Cat dam Meow, is a full brother to stallion and four-time Group 1-winner Churchill. He will be piloted by Michael Hussey from post 11.
O'Brien's Oaks fillies include multiple group winner Just Wonderful, a bay daughter of Dansili out of the Montjeu mare Wading, who captured the Group 3 Flame of Tara Irish E.B.F. at the Curragh in September and two starts later was victorious in the Group 2 Shadwell Rockfel at Newmarket. Just Wonderful, who comes from the same family as last year's Belmont Oaks-winner Athena, was eighth on June 21 last out in the Coronation at Ascot.
Wayne Lordan will ride Just Wonderful from post 6.
Coral Beach, a bay daughter of Zoffany, owns a record of 2-1-2 from 10 starts. She graduated in October at Cork when sprinting six furlongs and came back to beat the boys in October in the Group 3 Killavullan at Leopardstown.
On Saturday, the talented chestnut finished a strong a good fourth in the Sandringham on June 21 at Ascot.
Michael Hussey has the call on Coral Beach from post 3.
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Pavel set for Suburban; O'Neill contingent in play for Saratoga
Trainer Doug O' Neill currently has five horses stabled at Belmont Park with senior assistant trainer Leandro Mora led by Reddam Racing's world-traveler Pavel, who will start in Saturday's Grade 2, $700,000 Suburban on Saturday's loaded Stars & Stripes Festival card.
Also in tow are 2-year-olds Comical, Raging Whiskey and Shippy, along with the 3-year-old Listing - a Reddam Racing-owned son of Square Eddie trained by Ben Cecil, who is pointed to the Grade 3, $100,000 Quick Call on Opening Day July 11 at Saratoga.
"We arrived two days ago and everyone has settled in well," said Mora. "We've brought Pavel for the Suburban and we have Comical for the Schuylerville, along with another filly, Shippy, that was purchased from a 10-length win at Laurel. Raging Whiskey, who won at Santa Anita, is nominated for the Sanford. Listing is by Square Eddie for Mr. Reddam and he's racing on the 11th at Saratoga going 5 1/2-furlongs on the grass. The first day was tough because of the humidity, but they've settled in well now and we're optimistic about their chances."
Pavel, a 5-year-old son of Creative Cause, has won 3-of-16 starts while banking in excess of $2 million in purse money. The sturdy grey has competed at eight different tracks, including a pair of starts in Dubai, finishing fourth in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup two years running.
"Pavel has accumulated about 80,000 miles traveling...along with me," laughed Mora. "He travels so much because he loves it. Even in Japan, although the race didn't come up like we hoped it would, he loved it there. He's made two trips to Dubai and has traveled all over the United States."
Pavel won at the top flight in June 2018 with a prominent effort in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, which was his last win. He returns to New York for the 1 1/4-mile Suburban from a wide sixth in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap.
"He hasn't won as many races as we'd like, but he's always a contender and knocking on the door all the time," said Mora. "He's got a little, speed but he likes to have some speed to chase. We came here thinking it might be a short field and after the draw, he's number 11 of 11."
Regular pilot Mario Gutierrez has the return call from the outside post in a field led by 9-5 morning-line favorite Catholic Boy.
ERJ Racing, Dave Kenney and Westside Racing Stable's Comical, bred in Kentucky by Susan Casner, earned a 75 Beyer Speed Figure on debut, winning a 4 1/2-furlong maiden sprint at Santa Anita by six lengths. By Into Mischief, Comical is from the same family as 2008 Grade 1 Travers winner Colonel John.
"She's a nice filly and worked very impressively the other day at Santa Anita," said Mora of Comical's June 29 breeze in 1:01.80 seconds.
Both Comical and Shippy, a recent private purchase by Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, are pointed to the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville on Opening Day at Saratoga.
By Midshipman and out of the Speightstown mare Lead Me Not, Shippy was a $77,000 purchase at the 2019 March OBS. She debuted on June 14 at Laurel in a five furlong maiden race and romped by a widening 10 3/4-lengths as the odds-on favorite.
"The way she looks, I think this is a good purchase. I was impressed with her race at Laurel. I feel comfortable we have two legit chances there," said Mora.
The Quarter Company's Raging Whiskey earned a 66 Beyer Speed Figure when graduating at second asking on June 2 at Santa Anita. Bred in Maryland by Finn's Nickel and Anchor & Hope Farm, Raging Whiskey is expected to start in the Grade 3, $250,000 Sanford on July 13 at the Spa.
Rounding out the quintet is the 3-year-old Listing, who won the I'm Smokin on debut in August at Del Mar and has since added the California Cup Turf Sprint and last out Desert Code at Santa Anita to his credentials. Out of the Yonaguska mare Marquis Diamond, Listing is a full sibling to stakes winners More Complexity and Green With Eddie.
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Concrete Rose looks for breakthrough win in G1 Belmont Oaks Invitational
Since age 2, Concrete Rose has shown the talent to compete at a high level, but Ashbrook Farm's Racing Manager Bo Bromagen said the three-time graded stakes winner has displayed an even greater shift in attitude heading into Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational.
Trained by Rusty Arnold, Concrete Rose has won all but one of her five career starts when finishing eighth behind Newspaperofrecord in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on November 2 at Churchill Downs.
After winning her 2019 debut in the Grade 3 Florida Oaks, she turned the tables on Newspaperofrecord with a win in the Grade 3 Edgewood on May 3 at Churchill Downs.
"Between two to three, her attitude is much more self-confident," Bromagen said. "She knows what she's doing now and she loves to do it. As a 2-year-old, she was still taking it all in, now she knows what she has to do and her work ethic has gotten better."
The dark bay daughter of Twirling Candy broke her maiden first out at 12-1 over the Mellon turf course at Saratoga last summer, before winning her graded stakes debut at Keeneland in the Grade 2 Jessamine in October.
Concrete Rose was purchased for just $61,000 at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Mid-Atlantic Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale, which was one reason why Bromagen said she was able to escape at such high odds.
"I think that the handicappers tend to look at the purchase price in maiden races at Saratoga and we may have been overlooked off pedigree and purchase price. We knew that she would run well. Maybe not as well as she did, but we thought highly of her going in," Bromagen said.
Concrete Rose will face her toughest test yet in the Belmont Oaks, where she breaks from post 4 under Julien Leparoux, who piloted the filly to victory in both of her starts this year.
Bromagen expressed satisfaction with her energy level heading into Saturday's race.
"She's done fantastic," Bromagen said. "She has great energy; her coat is beautiful and Rusty has done a great job with her. I think we have a great shot. With all the international connections, you don't know about relatable competition. Aidan O'Brien always has nice horses and the filly from France [Olendon] looks good as well. Obviously, Chad [Brown] has some really nice ones. It's just a salty race and whoever wins has to be at the top of the division, hopefully that's us."
Bromagen looks forward to squaring off against Newspaperofrecord for the third time and hopes to develop a rivalry with the familiar foe.
"I've heard people say that Newspaperofrecord isn't the same horse that she was last year, but I don't think that's true," Bromagen said. "If she beats us, I want to come back at her. This is what's so fun about it. You get to go out there and compete and then try to beat them next time. I would love to see it turn into some sort of a rivalry. I love the idea behind [the Turf Triple series]. It would be pretty cool if we could win the first race in the first ever Turf Tiara series."
Concrete Rose is owned by Ashbrook Farm in partnership with BBN Racing. Bred in Kentucky by Ron Patterson, she is out of the Powerscourt broodmare Solerina.
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Majestic Dunhill seeking G2 John A. Nerud upset
R.A. Hill Stable's graded-stakes placed Majestic Dunhill schooled in the paddock on Thursday morning along with fellow Stars & Stripes Racing Festival hopefuls Catholic Boy, Plus Que Parfait and Mihos.
The 4-year-old Majesticperfection gelding was feeling good during the session, showing his heels on a couple occasions before completing the schooling in a professional manner befitting his 15 career starts.
"He's a cool horse. He's always like this. When he's not, I get concerned," said Blair Golen, assistant to trainer George Weaver. "He's trained well into this race and seems to have come out of his last race well. This is the last seven-furlong race for a while, so we'll take a shot at it and see how he does."
A Breeders' Cup Win and You're In qualifying race for the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita Park, the John A. Nerud is one of five stakes races on Saturday for the Stars & Stripes Racing Festival, which will be part of a live national broadcast on NBC from 4 - 6 p.m.
The dark bay has shown speed on both turf and dirt taking the grassy My Frenchman at Monmouth and the City of Laurel in November. Golen said Majestic Dunhill has shown an affinity for the Laurel Park main, including a second in the Grade 3 General George in February and a last out third in the Polynesian under Feargal Lynch.
"He did well at Laurel and ran a very good third. He likes it there. It's hard because he's a closer, so the jock saved ground but sometimes it's hard to get free. Feargal rides him well every time. He really likes the track there," said Golen.
Manny Franco picks up the mount aboard Majestic Dunhill on Saturday from the inside post in a field of nine led by Grade 1-winner Promises Fulfilled.
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McLaughlin pleased with Lucullan effort
Making his first start in over a year, 5-year-old Godolphin homebred Lucullan bested a salty group of seven including stakes winners Maraud, Therapist, Force the Pass, and Noble Indy to win an optional-claiming allowance on Wednesday.
Recording a 98 Beyer Speed Figure in victory, conditioner Kiaran McLaughlin said he was pleased with the effort but not yet decided on where the son of Hard Spun will point to next.
"We're very happy with his return," said McLaughlin. "He's a really nice horse and to come back with an effort like that is really impressive."
Lucullan made his first two career starts on dirt before switching to turf to break his maiden in June 2017. He went on to finish his sophomore year with a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Hill Prince. Last year, he made three starts including a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy before entering his layoff.
Following Wednesday's thrilling performance, McLaughlin acknowledged there are many options on the table, but he was still undecided where he might run next.
"It was a nice win and we're going to take our time and review our options before deciding on where we'll point to next," said McLaughlin.
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Rodriguez excited for prospects with Majid
Undefeated in four starts for conditioner Rudy Rodriguez, including a one-length victory most recently in the Easy Goer on June 8, Zayat Stables Majid will face graded stakes competition for the first time in the Grade 3 Dwyer on Saturday's star-studded Stars & Stripes card.
Purchased for $295,000 as a juvenile at the Fasig-Tipton Florida Select 2-year-olds in training sale, the Shackleford colt broke his maiden in his third career start and first for Rodriguez this January at Aqueduct.
He then followed with back-to-back allowance victories at Laurel Park and Belmont before capturing the Easy Goer. Scheduled to enter a field led by graded stakes winner Code of Honor, Rodriguez said his colt has been training well into the race.
"He's doing very good," said Rodriguez. "We entered the race, but I've still got to talk it over with the owners if we'll run here or maybe later on at Saratoga. We still have one day to decide and they'll [Zayat family] will come by to take a look at the horse before making a final decision."
Drawing the outermost post 7 for the Dwyer, Majid is scheduled to be ridden by Luis Saez, who has been aboard for his last two victories.
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Lady Fatima points to G2 Schuylerville
C T R Stables' maiden winner Lady Fatima will likely make her next start on Opening Day at Saratoga in the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville trainer Mark Casse said.
The gray or roan daughter of Bodemeister broke her maiden second time out over the Widener turf course at Belmont Park by a neck, recording a 65 Beyer Speed Figure, but ran over the main track at Aqueduct in her career debut in April, where she finished fourth.
"She's doing well, we're just trying to figure out where she fits in the big picture," Casse said. "This time of year there aren't very many options with a 2-year-old once you break your maiden."
Casse also nominated West Paw, a maiden winner over the Tapeta at Woodbine, but will keep her in Canada.
The six-furlong test for 2-year-old fillies drew a total of 20 nominations, including impressive local maiden winners Fierce Lady, Aurelia Garland, Kiss the Girl and Time Limit.
Bred in Kentucky by Christiana Stables, Lady Fatima is out of the Forestry broodmare Heavenly Promise, who is a half-sister to second crop sire Cairo Prince.
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Performer impressive in maiden win
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said he was highly satisfied with a winning effort from the appropriately named Performer, who broke his maiden second time out off of a seven-month layoff over the main track at Belmont Park Sunday afternoon.
Owned by Phipps Stable, the chestnut Speightstown colt was third in his career debut on November 3 at Aqueduct to eventual stakes placed The Right Path and returned off the bench Sunday to win a six-furlong maiden under jockey Joel Rosario, earning a lofty 87 Beyer Speed Figure.
McGaughey said he will likely run Performer back in a first-level allowance.
"I'll definitely run him in a 'one-other-than'," McGaughey said. "The good thing about Joel is that he won't take too much out of the horse. We always thought a lot of him. We gave him some time off after his debut and he came back great."
If all goes well, McGaughey did not rule out a potential start in the Grade 1, $500,000 Allen Jerkens Memorial presented by Runhappy on August 24 at Saratoga.
A Kentucky homebred, Performer is out of the graded stakes placed A.P. Indy broodmare Protesting.