By Richard Rosenblatt
It’s the weekend of racing before a Summerfest of the best racing in the world begins at Del Mar — where the Turf Meets the Surf — and Saratoga — the Summer Place to Be.
More than five dozen graded stakes races over an eight-week period are scheduled, with Saratoga opening Thursday (July 15) and Del Mar the next day. Million-dollar races, Grade 1’s galore and the best program of all set for Aug. 28 – six Grade 1’s including the $1.25 million Travers Stakes.
Best of all, both tracks are open at full capacity, with crowds likely to flock to the betting windows, and wager in any other form they find to their liking.
But let’s back up and first look at Saturday’s lineup on the final weekend at Belmont Park, with the $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) and the $750,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational G1) topping the card.
TV coverage is led by America’s Day at the Races on Fox Sports, with Saturday’s races from Belmont, Delaware Park, and other tracks scheduled for 1-3 p.m. on FS1 and 1-5:30 p.m. on FS2. TVG also has live racing coverage.
At Belmont, Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien looks to pull off a 3-year-old double with Bolshoi Ballet in the Belmont Derby and Santa Barbara in the Belmont Oaks.
Here’s a quick look at the races:
$1 million Belmont Derby Invitational (G1), 1 ¼ miles, turf, 3-year-olds
Post time 5:12 p.m. (race 9)
An international field of nine was entered, with Ireland-bred Bolshoi Ballet the 7-5 favorite for trainer Aidan O’Brien. The Galileo bay finished seventh as the favorite in the Group 1 Epsom Derby last out, but reportedly suffered a cut to his right hind leg during the race. Prior to that race, he won his previous two starts. Ryan Moore will ride.
The second choice is Hard Love at 5-2, trained by Jonathan Thomas.
$1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1), 1 ¼ miles, 3-year-old fillies
Post time: 4:06 p.m. (race 7)
This is opener of the Turf Triple for 3-year-old fillies, with the Santa Barbara topping the field of eight. The even-money choice, Santa Barbara is just a maiden winner but ran second in the Al Wasmiyah Stud Pretty Polly Stakes (G1) at the Curragh on June 27.
Also in the field is Cirona, trained by Christophe Ferland. She won the G3 Prix de la Grotte in April and was narrowly defeated in the G1 Prix Saint-Alary on soft turf in May at Longchamp.
Con Lima and Plum Ali, 1-2 finishers in the Wonder Again (G3) are also entered.
$150,000 Victory Ride (G3), 6 furlongs, 3-year-old fillies
Post time: 4:38 p.m. (race 8)
Trainer Brad Cox saddles a pair of top contenders in undefeated Australasia and stakes-winner Inject.
Australasia comes into the race off a win in the 5-furling Jersey Girl on June 6, defeating Victory Ride rivals Bella Sofia and Miss Brazil.
Inject won by 5 ¼ lengths last out in the 6-furlong Goldfinch at Pimlico on May 15.
$400,000 Delaware Handicap (G2), 1 ¼ miles, 3 and up
Post time: 5:15 p.m. (race 9)
Brad Cox is sending Bonny South to take on six rivals in this one and is the 3-2 favorite with Florent Geroux aboard.
Last year, Bonny South won the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks and then won the Grade 3 Doubledogdare in April at Keeneland. In her previous race, Bonny South was second to Letruska in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on June 5 at Belmont.
Queen Nekia, a five-time winner at Delaware Park, will look to rebound from a distant fourth in the Ogden Phipps for trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr.
$150,000 Robert G. Dick Memorial (G3), 1 3/8 miles, turf, 3 and up fillies and mares
Post time 3:15 p.m. (race 5)
A field of nine is led by Godolphin homebred Micheline (5-2) for trainer Mike Stidham. The 4-year-old Bernardini bay, with a career record of 15-5-2-1 for earnings of $674,478, won the 9-furlong Grade 2 Hillsborough over firm turf in March at Tampa.