October 21, 2021

European participation noteworthy in inaugural Jockey Club Derby, Oaks

A Thread of Blue and jockey Luis Saez capture the inaugural Saratoga Derby Invitational on August 4, 2019, at Saratoga (c) Adam Coglianese Photography/Ethan Coglianese

The New York Racing Association’s Turf Trinity and Turf Tiara series for three-year-olds conclude Saturday at Belmont Park with the inaugural runnings of the $1 million Jockey Club Derby and $750,000 Jockey Club Oaks.

The Derby, a 1 1/2-mile Breeders’ Cup Challenge prep for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), features a rematch between the winners of the Trinity’s first two legs, Belmont Derby (G1) upsetter Henley’s Joy and Saratoga Derby conqueror A Thread of Blue.

A Thread of Blue did not contest the Belmont Derby, but has beaten Henley’s Joy to the finish in both prior meetings. In the Saratoga Derby, A Thread of Blue made the lead soon after the start and led throughout to prevail by one length over Digital Age, the American Turf (G2) winner whose belated rally in the Belmont Derby fell short when fourth.

“We’re not too sure about the distance and a few days ago there was no rain in the forecast, but now we have rain. He prefers it firm, so hopefully it doesn’t get too soft,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin of A Thread of Blue. “He’s trained great coming into it and he’s run very well. We hope it stays firm. It will be a fresh new course.”

As can be expected given the purse, Europeans are well represented in the Derby. Among the three foreign invaders is Spanish Mission, who rates as a leading threat off a four-length victory over Nayef Road in the 1 5/8-mile Bahrain Trophy (G3) at Newmarket, though that rival turned the tables by a neck in the Gordon (G3) at Goodwood last out.

Among the other domestic contenders are Tone Broke, who landed the last two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales and Breeders’ Stakes, for trainer Steve Asmussen. The latter event, contested over 1 1/2 miles, was the colt’s first turf attempt. Kadar, a dull seventh in the Saratoga Derby in his second U.S. appearance, goes for Mike Maker.

The 1 3/8-mile Jockey Club Oaks unfortunately does not include Belmont Oaks (G1) and Saratoga Oaks heroine Concrete Rose, who is sidelined the remainder of the season due to injury.

European invaders could prove most dangerous in her absence. Wonderment captured the Criterium de Saint-Cloud (G1) over males last season, though she has not carried that form forward in three starts this term. Edisa perhaps merits a stronger long off back-to-back seconds in the Prix de Malleret (G2) and Prix de Psyche (G3), while the Japanese-bred Love So Deep herself enters off a narrow defeat in the Prix de Pomone (G2) at Deauville.

“She goes well over any ground which in intriguing. She goes on firm going and she goes on soft ground,” trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam said of Love So Deep. “Her regular rider John Egan feels that she’s better on the firm and I was kind of hoping that’s what I would get in New York.”

The American contingent includes the California-based Lady Prancealot, who has won or placed in four straight graded events, including a third to Cambier Parc in the Del Mar Oaks (G1) last time. Sam-Son Farm homebred Desert Ride has won four of six, including the Woodbine Oaks and Wonder Where in Canada, while Art of Almost has placed in the Dance Smartly (G2) and Pucker Up (G3) in her last two.

Saturday’s card also features the $300,000 Grand Prix American Jockey Club for older horses over one lap of Belmont’s 1 1/2-mile main track. Among the familiar participants are Marconi, Rocketry, and Realm, who were all separated by a half-length at the finish of the June 8 Brooklyn (G2) over the same track and distance.