Nations Pride rewarded his UK-based trainer Charlie Appleby’s decision to campaign him in the US for Godolphin by winning the 2022 $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational Stakes on August 6.
This son of Teofilo was bred by his owners out of an Oasis Dream dam and started as the 2/1 favorite. Todd Pletcher’s Annapolis was the second choice for bettors at 3/1 and finished nearly two lengths behind him on the Mellon Turf course.
Nations Pride was given a great ride over the mile and a furlong and a half trip by Godolphin’s number one jockey, William Buick. It was his debut at the Spa and the victory clearly meant a lot to him. Originally from Norway, he is no stranger to grade 1 success and rarely demonstrates much emotion after crossing the wire these days. There was a subtle, downward shaking of his whip that spoke volumes.
It was the first time Buick had ridden Nations Pride since his mediocre effort in the Epsom Derby in June, he finished mid pack, probably finding the distance of a mile and a half too far. Next time out the bay colt was partnered by the flamboyant Italian, Frankie Dettori, on his first run stateside. He started as the favorite in the mile and a quarter Belmont Derby on July 9 but was slow to leave the gates and was forced to race towards the rear of the pack of 12.
He was never going to get a good trip from that position and had to run wide to finish second, beaten nearly a length after staying on strongly in the stretch. The winner, Kenny McPeek’s Classic Causeway, had enjoyed an uncontested lead and defied odds of 26/1, never looking likely to be reeled in under Julien Leparoux.
Classic Causeway was taken more seriously by bettors at Saratoga, he was sent off at 8/1 under Leparoux. Starting from stall eight, the winning formula was tried again and he soon headed his nine rivals. It was the George Weaver trained long shot Main Event (41/1) who broke from the inside stall under Jose Ortiz who chose to pursue him in second.
Buick had to get active on Nations Pride as he left gate four and grabbed the rail and third place by the first turn. Flavien Prat positioned Pletcher’s Emmanuel (15/1) in fourth on his outside. Another European raider, the Aidan O’Brien trained Stone Age (4/1), was wide of him under John Velazquez. Irad Ortiz had Annapolis in sixth place after the turn, around five lengths off the pace but part of the leading group.
After they completed the first quarter mile in 29.42 the second wave of runners trailed them by two lengths. That group was led by a former UK trainee, Royal Patronage (14/1), who was moved to Graham Motion by Highclere Racing after a promising fifth place in the Belmont Derby. He was pursued by his barnmate, Sy Dog (18/1) under Manuel Franco. Pletcher’s Grand Sonata (31/1) was next leaving Wayne Lukas’ equally unpopular Ethereal Road (26/1) at the rear.
The running order was maintained with Classic Causeway leading by a length after the half mile, Ethereal Road was losing touch with his rivals, trailing the pack by three lengths. Buick took the second spot as Emmanuel weakened approaching the far turn, not wasting a yard. Going into the stretch Buick left the rail to make his bid for the lead. Velazquez tried to shadow him on Stone Age but did not receive the same response. Annapolis went past him to take third in the stretch.
Nations Pride took the lead by the eighth pole as the gallant Classic Causeway battled on but could not equal his final effort. Annapolis fought hard but could not get to him as they crossed the wire.
McPeek was pleased with Classic Causeway’s third place, beaten two lengths. He was aware that Nations Pride might have beaten his colt with a better trip at Belmont and thought he was the main danger. Sy Dog took fourth, three lengths behind the winner and was closely followed by Stone Age and Royal Patronage in that order.
Nations Pride is likely to be pointed at the $1 million Caesars Jockey Club Derby at Aqueduct on September 17. The race has been moved to Aqueduct from Belmont Park due to the construction work at the track.
Appleby and Buick enjoyed another successful day on August 7, scoring in the $651,000 Saratoga Oaks Invitational Stakes, a grade 3 for fillies contested over the same course and distance as the Saratoga Derby. With The Moonlight was the 6/5 favorite and is another successful product of Godolphin’s breeding operation.
This daughter of Frankel out of a Dubawi dam has followed the fillies’ version of Nations Pride’s career path. She ran in the Epsom Oaks, weakening when it mattered and finished last under Buick. With The Moonlight made her US debut in the Belmont Oaks under Dettori. She was beaten almost two lengths in second place behind Chad Brown’s McKulick. There was no nightmare trip to blame for her defeat, she looked to be the second best filly on the day.
With The Moonlight was sweating profusely in the sweltering heat at Saratoga but that did not stop her reversing the placings with McKulick, the 7/5 second choice. She tested Buick’s arm strength early on as he held her in second place after breaking from gate three but had enough gas left in the tank to cruise home. She beat McKulick one and three quarter lengths, Brendan Walsh’s New Year’s Eve (11/1) was third followed by Brown’s Contemporary Art (6/1) and her barnmate, Oakhurst (10/1).
Appleby has ruled out pointing With The Moonlight at the grade 3 Jockey Club Oaks at Aqueduct mentioning that she may return to Europe. Nations Pride will be a worthy Godolphin representative at the track in her absence.