Bolshoi Ballet was the heavy favorite for the 2021 Belmont Derby but he did not look likely to reward his followers until late in the stretch at Belmont Park on July 10.
Trained in Ireland by Aidan O’Brien for Sue Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor, his jockey Ryan Moore had to push pretty hard to maintain a mid pack position. He was forced to run wide on the final turn but eventually passed his rivals to win in a time of 2 minutes 4.42 seconds.
This stunning son of Galileo out of a mare by Anabaa also started as the favorite for the Epsom Derby last time out in June. He had won his previous two starts in Ireland including a Derby trial impressively but was very disappointing at Epsom, never looking likely to threaten and was beaten 17 lengths. He had been struck into during the race and sustained a nasty cut on his right hind leg. O’Brien believes it explains his poor performance as it occurred very early on and would not have been anaesthetized by adrenalin.
Another European shipper Tokyo Gold, a 14/1 shot, closed to take second at Belmont, beaten a length and a quarter under John Velazquez. He is trained in France by Satoshi Kobayashi for Teruya Yoshida who bred this son of Kendargent out of his Dalakhani mare, Biancarosa. Tokyo Gold came into the race after winning the Italian Derby by four lengths in late May. That was a much easier assignment but proved he had the stamina for a furlong further. He kept galloping when others faded over the mile and a quarter.
The only US trainee to achieve a podium finish was George Arnold’s Cellist, a 16/1 shot who was ridden prominently by Julien Leparoux. He was last seen winning a stakes race at Churchill Downs after being allowed to set his own steady fractions at the front over a mile and a furlong. He was a neck behind Tokyo Gold and followed by the more popular Du Jour, the 22/5 second favorite piloted by Flavien Prat for Bill Mott. Du Jour had won his past three starts, most recently it was the grade two American Turf at Churchill Downs run over a mile and a half.
How did the race go?
All the runners broke well and it was Hard Love who started from stall six who took the lead going into the clubhouse turn under Manny Franco. Trained by Jonathan Thomas, he was strongly supported at 23/5 to deliver at this higher level after winning his previous two starts at the track, most recently over a mile and a furlong. Cellist raced in second on his outside whilst Jose Lezcano positioned the 19/1 shot Safe Conduct directly behind the leader, hugging the hedge in third. Du Jour and Sainthood (94/10) were not far behind, slightly ahead of Bolshoi Ballet. Tokyo Gold and Palazzi settled at the back of the pack, having their own competition for last place.
The order was unchanged during the first half mile, run in an unhurried 51.34 seconds, but Moore was moving his hands to urge Bolshoi Ballet forward. He gained a position or two only to lose it a furlong later and had only two horses behind him as they completed the mile in 1 minute 41 seconds. Moore was pushing more vigorously than most of his rivals approaching the final turn and was three lengths behind Cellist who headed Hard Spun at the top of the stretch. Du Jour took third place as Sainthood fell back.
Deep in the stretch Moore finally got the response he had asked for and Bolshoi Ballet powered past Cellist, closely pursued by Tokyo Gold. Hard Love weakened close to the wire and finished seventh, beaten four and a half lengths.
A double for O’Brien after Belmont Oaks
O’Brien successfully saddled Santa Barbara in the Belmont Oaks Invitational earlier on that day for the same connections. She appeared to be the most talented filly in the race by a distance but won by only a length after a troubled trip. Sent off as the 23/20 favorite, she beat Todd Pletcher’s Con Lima, a 5/1 shot partnered by Flavien Prat. Higher Truth (15/2) was narrowly beaten into third under Jose Ortiz and was followed by Gam’s Mission, two lengths behind her.
Bred in Ireland by O’Brien and his wife Anne Marie (aka Whisperview Trading Ltd), Santa Barbara is a daughter of Camelot out of the star Danehill mare, Senta’s Dream. Senta’s Dream never hit the track but produced Order Of Australia, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2020 and Iridessa who took the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
Santa Barbara was last seen getting narrowly beaten in the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes in Ireland on June 27 over this distance of a mile and a quarter. She won her only start in a maiden race as a juvenile but was a beaten favorite in the One Thousand Guineas run over a mile at Newmarket in the UK and in the Oaks at Epsom over half a mile further this year. Moore partnered her in both and she was beaten by a less fancied stablemate in the Guineas. She has always looked outstanding in her work at home but had failed to replicate it on the racetrack. This was only her second victory and her first top level score.
The Belmont Oaks was her fifth start and Moore broke fairly well from gate five, choosing to settle Santa Barbara mid pack. Flavien Prat made the most of his inside draw on Con Lima and took the lead immediately. He set steady fractions at the head of the pack, completing the half mile in 51.31 seconds, closely pursued by Mark Casse’s Spanish Loveaffair (26/1) piloted by Tyler Gaffalione. Chad Brown’s Higher Truth and the UK raider Nazuna were not far behind them, ahead of Santa Barbara who grabbed the hedge, four lengths behind the leader. Gam’s Mission was positioned at her shoulder by Adam Beschizza.
The running order was unchanged as they rounded the far turn. Moore was three lengths behind the leading filly, Con Lima. As the pace lifted in the race for the wire Santa Barbara was trapped and only found space to run at the 1/16th pole. She had the tactical speed to take advantage of it and reward her followers, given a clear run she may well have won by much further.
O’Brien reports that both horses have come out of their races well. The Breeders’ Cup could be on the schedule if all goes well for them.