With three Eclipse Awards, 12 Breeders’ Cup wins and a growing list of training titles, there are not too many holes in Chad Brown’s résumé, especially when it comes to his native New York state turf.
Underscore turf. Put it in bold face, italics, all caps. Brown owns it. And bettors know it.
But there is one particular $1 million race in his back yard that has eluded him. Brown has tried eight times in five years to win the Grade 1 Belmont Derby. Eight times he has failed.
This year Brown is loading the field, sending four horses into the 1¼-mile inner-turf race for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park. Two are undefeated. One – Digital Age (9-2 on the morning line, 4-1 in Europe per Oddschecker) – is likely to be the post-time favorite in the feature race of Saturday’s sixth annual Stars and Stripes Day.
Brown had the favorite last year, too. And if the race had been 50 feet shorter, Analyze It would have won. Instead, Catholic Boy caught him with a late run along the rail and was a head clear at the wire.
Ridden by Írad Ortiz Jr., Digital Age is a deep closer that comes into his first 10-furlong race two months after winning the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes on Kentucky Derby day at Churchill Downs. Brown’s other undefeated closer among the 14 horses in Saturday’s 5:44 p.m. EDT race – Demarchelier (6-1, 9-2) – won by a neck last month in the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge. That was a nine-furlong thriller at Belmont Park that saw two other Belmont Derby horses – Seismic Wave (5-1, 11-1) and Social Paranoia (8-1, 12-1) – finish second and third.
Brown also starts Rockemperor (8-1, 10-1), a Group 3 runner-up in France, and Standard Deviation (15-1, 14-1), a stakes winner in his turf debut last month at Monmouth Park.
“I look at the horses’ form as well as that trainer’s form,” said T.J. Comerford, the Aidan O’Brien training assistant who is looking after the four Coolmore horses that have been shipped from Ireland to New York this weekend. “It’s Chad Brown. It always seems to be Chad Brown. For the horses that he has you have to respect Chad Brown as well.”
Bettors are likely to make the Belmont Derby a duel between Brown’s barn and Coolmore. The Irish racing giant starts a pair of Galileo colts – Epsom handicap winner Cape Of Good Hope (7-1, 10-1) and possible pace-setter Blenheim Palace (30-1, 12-1). For both of them the 10 furlongs are old hat.
“Ours already have gone that distance,” Comerford told VSiN. “You only start stepping up to your mile-and-a-quarter races (in North America) around now. Most of your 3-year-olds haven’t even gone a mile-and-a-quarter. Our horses probably get the distance better than most. Horses being by stallions like Galileo, that’s what gives them their stamina.”
With Blenheim Palace adding blinkers, the Coolmore strategy seems obvious. He will go forward and set up a late run by Cape Of Good Hope, the brother of 2016 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Highland Reel. Then again, Comerford said that Blenheim Palace could steal the victory after showing his own form finishing second in a Group 3 race at the Curragh in Ireland only a week ago.
“You’re not really looking for pace,” Comerford said. “You’re just looking for a proper run mile-and-a-quarter. You don’t want a mile-and-quarter race run like a mile race where it’s all speed at the finish. You want an evenly run, mile-and-a-quarter race.”
That sort of pace could also help Brown’s pair of 3-for-3 colts as well as a closer like Seismic Wave, a Bill Mott trainee that should appreciate the added distance.
Based on his closing speed and presuming the early pace is not blistering, Digital Age looks like the horse that will be positioned best to win Saturday and finally give Brown his first Belmont Derby win.
Oh, what if rain softens the course? Then I will be all in on Mark Casse’s rail horse Moon Colony (12-1, 14-1), winner of last month’s Penn Mile on yielding turf. At that point Brown could look to the heavens and wonder if he will ever break through in the Belmont Derby.
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Where Brown has endured frustration in the Belmont Derby, he has owned the $1 million Grade 1 Belmont Oaks, winning it three of the five times it has been part of Stars and Stripes Day. But Newspaperofrecord (5-2, 3-1), the likely favorite in Saturday’s renewal, looks like she has regressed since her eye-popping 2-year-old year that ended with a 6¾-length win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. She was a beaten favorite in a pair of Grade 3s this spring, so I will look elsewhere in this 1¼-mile, inner-course race. Trained by George Arnold, Concrete Rose (3-1, 7-2) beat Newspaperofrecord in the Edgewood Stakes on the Kentucky Oaks undercard and is 4-for-4 on good or firm turf. The big question with her is what any Saturday rain may do to the course. The “other Brown” – Cambier Parc (4-1, 5-1) overtook Newspaperofrecord last month to win the Wonder Again on the Belmont inner turf, and she looks like she will appreciate the extra distance. With Newspaperofrecord and Japanese import Jodie (20-1, 33-1) expected to contest the early pace, I like a closer in this field of nine. The French filly Olendon (9-2, 9-2), a Group 1 runner-up ridden this weekend by Belmont-savvy Hall of Famer John Velázquez, is my choice. And if the track gets soft, I like her even more. The Belmont Oaks is scheduled to start Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EDT.
The long-awaited return of two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Enable finally happens Saturday at 10:35 a.m. EDT when she races in the $943,477 Group 1 Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, England. “Preparation has gone well,” her jockey Frankie Dettori told Racing Post. “She is notoriously not a very good work horse, so it’s very hard to gauge.” Racing for the first time since winning the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf, Enable (10-11) is the odds-on favorite and was drawn outside in the field of eight for the 1¼-mile turf race. “Obviously she hasn’t raced since the Breeders’ Cup,” Dettori said, “but she’s a champion, and I am very much looking forward to riding her again to show the public that she is still here.” Trained by John Gosden, the 5-year-old mare will be challenged in her 2019 debut by the likes of 4-year-old Coolmore filly Magical (10-3), runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and the sometimes ornery 4-year-old colt Regal Reality (13-2), winner of a Group 3 race over the same 10 furlongs in May. With good-to-firm going and sunshine in the forecast, it is hard to bet against Enable. The only way she should lose if she beats herself.
Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach is unlikely to line up in next month’s Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga. Trainer Richard Mandella told the Daily Racing Form that he is more likely to start his recovering 3-year-old colt that same weekend in either the Grade 1 Jerkens Stakes sprint on Aug. 24 at Saratoga or the ungraded Shared Belief mile stakes on Aug. 25 at Del Mar. “I’d probably just stay home (at Del Mar) and get a race in him,” Mandella said. Omaha Beach has had a slower-than-expected recovery from a throat operation in May. He was the morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby before he was scratched three days before the race.
The annual Saratoga racing summer begins early this year – specifically next Thursday. That is a week earlier than normal since the New York Racing Association wanted to clear out of Belmont Park to accelerate construction of the New York Islanders’ new arena next to the grandstand there. There will still be 36 racing days, but instead of Wednesday-Monday for six weeks, Saratoga will be active Wednesday-Sunday for seven weeks. The only Monday card will be Labor Day, Sept. 2, to wrap up the meet.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. It appears more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s episode features Coolmore assistant trainer T.J. Comerford previewing Saturday’s Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks, the features of Stars and Stripes Day at Belmont Park, New York. CBS Sports Radio host Jody McDonald discusses racing trends for the first half of 2019. The RFRP is also available via Apple, Google and Stitcher.