The Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational has drawn a talented field of nine that features a trio of 3-year-olds that have identical records on the turf. Analyze It, Catholic Boy, and Hawkish have won three of their four career starts on the grass, including at least one graded stakes race, but they now try the mile and a quarter distance for the first time.
Part of the Stars and Stripes Racing Festival, the Belmont Derby is scheduled as race 10 out of 11 with post-time set for 6:50pm ET. Here is the full field analysis with the morning line odds by Horse Racing Nation.
Channel Cat [ML 20-1 – English Channel – T. Pletcher/L. Saez – 8: 2-1-2 – $97,792] This Todd Pletcher runner has been a turf specialist his entire career with his best victory coming in an allowance race. Channel Cat is a son of the great turf star, English Channel, who was also trained by Pletcher. He finished third in the Pennine Ridge (G3), a few lengths behind the top two. A notch below the top ones.
Encumbered [ML 30-1 – Violence – S. Callaghan/M. Gutierrez – 6: 2-0-0 – $121,295] This west coast runner topped My Boy Jack twice last summer before being badly beaten in the FrontRunner (G1) on the dirt and in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). A trip east for the Penn Mile (G2) was a tough spot in which to make his 2018 debut. There he pushed the early pace and faded to finish fifth behind Hawkish. Owner Paul Reddam likes to see his horses run in the big races around the country. Appears to be overmatched.
Analyze It [ML 9-5 – Point of Entry – C. Brown/J. Ortiz – 4: 3-1-0 – $235,000] This is one of the rare instances when trainer Chad Brown has only one horse entered in a Grade 1 turf stakes race, but when that one horse is Analyze It, Brown should be confident. This son of Point of Entry won his first three raises very easily while displaying a brilliant turn of foot in the stretch. Those victories were visually impressive, but his loss to Catholic Boy in the recent Pennine Ridge was bizarre to watch. As before, Analyze It went right by his rival, but lugged in when doing so, and drew off to more than a length advantage. Catholic Boy changed paths moved to the outside and rallied to win the race by a neck. I think that if Analyze It had won the race that he would have been on the losing side of a steward’s inquiry. The Pennine Ridge should move Analyze It forward in the fitness department and the ten-furlong distance should be no problem for the William Lawrence runner. The Chad Brown star is the likely favorite.
Hunting Horn (IRE) [ML 10-1 – Camelot (GB) – A. O’Brien/R. Moore – 7: 2-1-2 – $109,280] Hunting Horn was seen most recently winning the Hampton Court (G3) at the Royal Ascot meeting at odds of 5-1 for the powerful European connections of Coolmore and Aidan O’Brien. In most cases, a Euro like this would be a formidable challenger, but he faces a very strong group of Americans, especially on what is likely to be a very fast and firm Belmont Park inner turf course. For all of his Grade 1 wins, O’Brien has not had much luck shipping to New York. Hunting Horn goes first-time Lasix. A Group 3 winner at Royal Ascot.
Maraud [ML 12-1 – Blame – T. Pletcher/J. Velazquez – 8: 4-0-2 – $370,670] At his best, Maraud is a multi-graded stakes winner who has spent his entire career on the grass for Todd Pletcher. In his most recent start he got involved in the early pace in the Penn Mile and then faded to finish fourth. That mile distance has not been to his liking in the past and the increase to ten-furlongs should be a positive factor, but I just don’t see this one beating the top three in here. Toughest field he’s ever faced.
Kingstar (FR) [ML 15-1 – Evasive (GB) – P. Brandt/P. Boudot – 3: 2-1-0 – $55,189] Kingstar is a lightly raced European with only three starts in France. All of those races, including a second-place finish in a Group 2 as a juvenile, were run on soft going. There appear to be too many obstacles for this one to overcome. Asking a lot of this lightly raced Euro.
Catholic Boy [ML 5-2 – More Than Ready – J. Thomas/J. Castellano – 7: 4-1-0 – $522,000] After starting his career on the turf, Catholic Boy moved to the Kentucky Derby trail with good results. Back on what is clearly his best surface, the Jonathan Thomas runner took back the lead to win the Pennine Ridge after being bumped and passed by Analyze It. In that race Javier Castellano sent the son of More Than Ready straight to the lead, which was a new strategy. So, it will be interesting to see if his connections will try that again going the mile and a quarter distance. The rematch with Analyze It is an intriguing subplot in this race. Has battled the best on grass and dirt.
Hawkish [ML 5-1 – Artie Schiller – J. Toner/M. Franco – 4: 3-0-0 – $359,700] Trainer Jimmy Toner knows how to develop turf stars and he has done that with this son of Artie Schiller. Hawkish runs for the partnership of Robert LaPenta, AJ Suited Racing (Justin Nicholson, one of the Equestricon founders), and Maraket Stables (Sol Kumin). The Penn Mile was a breakout victory for Hawkish, who overcame some early trouble to score by a decisive three-length margin over Way Early. There may be some questions about the distance for this one. Is a mile his best distance?
My Boy Jack [ML 8-1 – Creative Cause – K. Desormeaux/K. Desormeaux – 11: 3-3-2 – $705,145] My Boy Jack is the leading money winner in the field, which is a measure of the quality of competition that he has faced. Last seen running fifth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) after closing from dead last at the second call. Instead of continuing in the Triple Crown, trainer Keith Desormeaux opted for some time off and a return to turf racing. My Boy Jack began his career with five starts on the turf that yielded one stakes win and three seconds, including two behind Encumbered. On the Derby trail, he won the Grade 3 Southwest and Lexington Stakes. I’m not convinced that the grass is his best surface and this Belmont Derby is a very tough spot on a two-month layoff. Leading money winner returns to the grass.
Summary: One must expect the grass course at Belmont Park to be firm and very fast even if there does turn out to be a thunderstorm in the area on Friday. It has been so hot and dry that the turf will take the rain as if it was just getting its standard watering. Those conditions will certainly make it difficult on the two European shippers.
It seems very likely that the winner of the Belmont Derby will be one of the top three choices. All three are very talented turf horses, but the ten-furlong distance appears to play against Hawkish, who may be best at a mile. That leaves a rematch between Analyze It and Catholic Boy. Catholic Boy handed Analyze It the first loss of his career in the Pennine Ridge, but that race had a very unusual stretch run that leads me to believe that Analyze It will turn the tables on Catholic Boy and return to the winner’s circle.