January 27, 2023

Bolshoi Ballet wins poignant Belmont Derby for late sire Galileo

Bolshoi Ballet wins the Belmont Derby (Photo by Janet Garaguso/Coglianese Photos)

Hours after Coolmore announced the passing of Galileo, his homebred son Bolshoi Ballet increased his record tally of top-level winners in Saturday’s $1 million Belmont Derby (G1). The 1.05-1 favorite forged clear to become Galileo’s 92nd Grade/Group 1 winner, and handed connections a double on the card following Santa Barbara’s coup in the Belmont Oaks (G1).

Trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore, Bolshoi Ballet was rebounding from an uncharacteristic seventh as the favorite in the Epsom Derby (G1). The convincing winner of the same two Leopardstown preps won by Galileo on his way to Derby glory – the April 11 Ballysax S. (G3) and May 9 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (G3) – Bolshoi Ballet was struck into by a rival early on at Epsom and emerged with a bad gash.

The Belmont Derby offered the right spot to get back on track, over his proven 1 1/4-mile trip. Yet circumstances made it less than ideal. The dawdling pace on a rain-affected track would not have put him in the best light, but Bolshoi Ballet was simply too good.

“The ground was probably a little bit slow for him, because he likes quick ground,” Ballydoyle assistant T.J. Comerford told NYRA publicity. “In fairness to him, his class pulled it out at the end of the day, and you have to be happy with it.”

As Bolshoi Ballet was reserved in seventh early, Hard Love appeared to be having the run of the race as the pacesetter. The 4.60-1 chance was doling out fractions of :24.61, :51.34, and 1:17.26 on the good inner turf. Although the first two sectionals were comparable to the Belmont Oaks, the six-furlong split was almost a second slower. Hard Love began to pick it up through a mile in 1:41.03, when the attending Cellist loomed and served it up to the longtime leader at the top of the stretch.

By that point, Moore had angled Bolshoi Ballet to the outside for clear sailing. The bay thus didn’t have to overcome traffic woes like Santa Barbara, but he made Moore work by requiring stoking up for some duration. Gradually asserting the farther they went, Bolshoi Ballet drove to a 1 1/4-length decision in 2:04.42.

“It felt like they were going very slow,” Moore said. “This horse, we know he gets the 10 (furlongs) very well. It was a messy race and he won comfortably without being able to show how good he is. We’re happy with him. He’s the most beautiful horse you’ll see. He’s a real athlete. He’s a class horse.”

The only other European shipper, 16-1 Tokyo Gold, closed well to round out the international exacta. Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez was pleased with the effort while preferring he could have perched closer early.

“He ran really well,” Velazquez said. “I wish I had a little better position in the first part of the race, but I was right behind the winner the whole way, so I might as well stay there. He’s pretty handy and when I asked, he ran. The other horse was just a little better than us.”

Cellist, also 16-1, was another neck away in third. Next came Du Jour, who was in contention but lacked punch late; Sainthood; Palazzi; Hard Love; Safe Conduct; and Hidden Enemy.

Bolshoi Ballet is the second Belmont Derby winner for both Galileo and O’Brien, after Deauville (2016). His scorecard stands at 7-4-0-1, $637,827, for the Coolmore partners and Westerberg, who joined the ownership team after the Derrinstown. Aside from his Epsom debacle, his only other unplaced effort was a close fifth in last fall’s Criterium de Saint-Cloud (G1) on heavy going.

Bred by Lynch-Bages and Rhinestone Bloodstock in Ireland, Bolshoi Ballet is a full brother to Southern France, who placed in the 2018 St Leger (G1) and Queen’s Vase (G2). In 2019, Southern France was runner-up to the great Stradivarius in the Yorkshire Cup (G2) before scoring his first Group win in the Irish St Leger Trial (G3). Subsequently third in the Irish St Leger (G1), Southern France was exported to Australia where he captured the Sandown Classic (G2).

Bolshoi Ballet and Southern France are out of the Anabaa mare Alta Anna, herself a half-sister to French Group 3 scorer Abbatiale, who missed by a head in the 1998 Prix de Diane (French Oaks) (G1). This is a branch of the black-type-rich family of 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) shocker Arcangues, among others.

The usually reticent Moore was already talking Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) for the still-improving Bolshoi Ballet.

“With a furlong to run, you could see he was just waiting, having a look, and his ears were going,” his rider said. “He’s still getting used to knowing what he has to do. We think there’s more to come. Potentially, I suppose he could be a Breeders’ Cup Turf horse.”

As with Santa Barbara in the fillies’ division, the Coolmore/Ballydoyle brain trust has decisions to make – whether to advance through rest of the turf series in the Aug. 7 Saratoga Derby (G1) and Sept. 18 Jockey Club Derby – or aim high back in Europe.