Friday’s segment of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival features three terrific turf stakes. Trainer Chad Brown has the $750,000 New York (G1) surrounded, with the high-class Rougir and unbeaten Bleecker Street topping his four-strong team. The $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup (G2) could once again prove a happy hunting ground for the Europeans, and the $200,000 Intercontinental (G3) has drawn a contentious field of 13.
New York (G1) – Race 10 (5:50 p.m. ET)
Brown’s brigade has both quality and quantity, making up more than half the field as well as including the two top contenders in the 1 1/4-mile inner turf test. French import Rougir made a smashing debut for the barn in the May 14 Beaugay (G3), and she now returns to the distance of her marquee victory in last fall’s Prix de l’Opera (G1). Flavien Prat stays aboard the nearly $3.4 million Arqana December purchase, who races for Peter Brant and Michael Tabor.
Brant’s Bleecker Street brings a perfect 6-for-6 record into her first Grade 1 attempt. Her skein includes the Endeavour (G3), Hillsborough (G2), and Modesty (G3), and her powerful closing kick should be just as effective over an extra furlong. Irad Ortiz Jr. picks up the mount. Brant also owns the other two Brown entrants, last-out Sheepshead Bay (G2) romper Virginia Joy and Flighty Lady, yet to replicate her French Group 1-placed juvenile form.
Brown told NYRA that Virginia Joy is an uncertain runner.
“We are 50-50 to run Virginia Joy,” the horseman said of the German-bred who revels in soft going. “She is training well and if one or two horses come out, we will maybe run her. We haven’t decided yet.”
Family Way rates as the best chance of thwarting a “Brown-out.” Runner-up to Virginia Joy in Gulfstream Park’s The Very One (G3) back in March, the Brendan Walsh mare has since taken the Orchid (G3) and finished second to War Like Goddess in the Bewitch (G3). Multiple stakes vixen Core Values exits a close third in the Bewitch, but Lovely Lucky has been well behind both Bleecker Street and Virginia Joy, respectively, when fifth in the Hillsborough and third in the Sheepshead Bay.
Belmont Gold Cup (G2) – Race 8 (4:42 p.m. ET)
German shipper Loft earned his spot as a perk of his victory in the May 15 Oleander-Rennen (G2) at Hoppegarten. The step up to two miles suited the lightly-raced four-year-old, who hails from the yard of Marcel Weiss, best known for training last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) upsetter, Torquator Tasso. Loft was also supposed to have the same rider, Rene Piechulek, but Daily Racing Form reports that visa issues will prevent him from traveling. Compatriot Andrasch Starke will now come in for the mount.
Also by Torquator Tasso’s sire, Adlerflug, Loft has improved since stretching out to longer distances. He broke his maiden in a 1 3/4-mile listed stakes at Baden-Baden last summer and placed in the Deutsches St Leger (G3) and Silbernes Pferd (G3). Loft projects a ground-saving trip from his rail post at Belmont.
“I think the two miles is perfect for him and he will run well with the American race style,” Piechulek told NYRA publicity. “Soft ground is even better for him, but it doesn’t really matter that much with him if it is firm ground. I think he can place and maybe win. He likes races with a good pace, but he can place himself up close or behind, and I think he is even better this year and has been improving every race.”
British invader Outbox lacks Loft’s consistency and proven stamina at this trip, but the Frankel gelding is capable on his day. Aside from placing to the likes of Hukum and Al Aasy in Group 3s last campaign, the Archie Watson veteran captured the Fred Archer S. at Newmarket and Qatar’s lucrative H.H. Amir Trophy on Feb. 19. Outbox’s hit-or-miss pattern has been evident in his last two, a third in the Jockey Club (G2) (where champion Yibir was second) followed by a last-of-six effort in the May 14 Aston Park (G3). Hollie Doyle comes in to ride the 124-pound highweight.
“Outbox is a very adaptable horse and we know he handles the traveling,” Doyle said. “I’m hopeful he will run a big race in the Gold Cup. His previous run was disappointing, but every horse is entitled to throw in a bad one. His win in Qatar was excellent and if he can produce another run like that, it would be great.”
Leading the American-based entrants is Abaan, hero of the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens S. at Gulfstream Park on Christmas Eve and the Jan. 29 W.L. McKnight (G3). The Todd Pletcher pupil has been beaten in his three ensuing starts, but his second to Gufo in the Pan American (G2) underscores the idea that he’s better over further. Hence the return to a marathon with Luis Saez aboard.
Brazilian import Novo Sol, third in the Pan American, likewise stretches out after disappointing in the Dinner Party (G2) on Preakness Day. Cibolian is intriguing in light of his troubled fourth in the Louisville (G3), while Box N Score has pedigree potential in his stakes debut, and British Royalty scored his signature win in the 2021 Breeders’ S. at Woodbine. Rounding out the eight-horse field is Strong Tide, who was up the track in this race a year ago.
Intercontinental (G3) – Race 11 (6:22 p.m. ET)
Caravel was under consideration for Royal Ascot for a time, but connections opted to stay stateside. Most recently sixth versus males in the TwinSpires Turf Sprint (G2) on Kentucky Oaks Day, the Brad Cox mare reverts to her own division for the Intercontinental, now trimmed to six furlongs on the Widener course.
Tobys Heart rebounded from a Monrovia (G2) third to take the May 5 Unbridled Sidney S. on “Thurby” at Churchill. Star Devine, who edged Illegal Smile two starts back in the Galway S. at Saratoga, resumed with a second to Royal Ascot star Campanelle in the April 16 Giant’s Causeway S. Grade 2 queen Jouster, a troubled sixth in the Giant’s Causeway, looks for clearer sailing here.
Brown relies on Nevisian Sunrise, who cuts back after a front-running Keeneland allowance comeback over a mile. Christophe Clement is double-handed with Miss J McKay and new recruit Lady Edith. Miss J McKay was successful in the May 1 License Fee S., beating Miss Majorette. Lady Edith was last seen landing the Jan. 29 Wishing Well S. at Turfway before selling for $370,000 at Fasig-Tipton.
Robin Sparkles and Flower Point were third and fifth, respectively, to Caravel in last summer’s Caress (G3) at the Spa. Flower Point has been racing over further, and shortens up from a fifth in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2). Robin Sparkles just wired the off-the-turf Politely S. at Monmouth, and Assertive Style likewise goes dirt-to-turf following a distant third in the Vagrancy (G3). The Grass Is Blue proved her stakes quality on dirt last season, but could have more to offer given her pedigree for this surface.