Deauville (IRE) (Galileo) and jockey Jamie Spencer win the 2016 Belmont Derby Invitational (Gr I) at Belmont Park for trainer Aidan O’Brien
Champion European trainer Aidan O’Brien may hold a strong hand in this year’s Stars & Stripes Festival on Saturday, July 8, with as many as four contenders currently holding invites for the Grade 1, $ 1.2 million Belmont Derby and Grade 1, $ 1 million Belmont Oaks Invitationals, both for 3-year-olds at 1 ¼ miles on the inner turf.
O’Brien will look to repeat last year’s Derby success with Deauville, sent to a neck victory at 6-1 over Highland Sky, with invitees War Decree and Taj Mahal. War Decree, a Kentucky-bred colt by War Front, won two of his three starts during a shortened juvenile campaign that included a 1 ¾-length victory over eventual UAE Derby winner Thunder Snow in the Group 2 Qatar Vintage at Goodwood last July.
War Decree returned in 2017 after a nearly nine-month layoff with a sixth-place finish in the Group 3 Craven at Newmarket Racecourse in April. He most recently finished a troubled fifth in the 1 5/16-mile Group 1 QIPCO Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly Racecourse in France on June 4.
Taj Mahal, fourth in the Group 3 Hampton Court at Royal Ascot on June 22, is searching for his first win since breaking his maiden last October over Dundalk Racecourse’s Polytrack course. This year, the Irish-bred Galileo colt finished a close fourth in the Prix du Jockey Club, 1 ½ lengths behind the winner, Brametot, and a length ahead of War Decree.
For the Oaks, O’Brien has invites for multiple stakes-placed Alluringly and recent Sandringham Handicap runner-up Rain Goddess.
Alluringly, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Fastnet Rock, broke her maiden by 4 ¾ lengths in her seasonal bow in April and has followed up with a runner-up effort in a listed stakes and a distant third-place finish in the Group 1 Investec Oaks at 1 ½ miles at Epsom Racecourse on June 2. In her last start, Alluringly finished sixth in Royal Ascot’s Group 2 Ribblesdale on June 22.
Rain Goddess, by Galileo, won her debut at seven furlongs last fall and was second in the one-mile Sandringham on June 21, finishing 1 ¼ lengths behind the Wesley Ward-trained Con Te Partiro.
Also among this year’s European contingent for the Derby are H. H. Aga Khan’s Berdibek, a one-length winner fo the Prix Caracalla on June 16 at Maisons-laffitte in France for trainer Mikel Delzangles, who won the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf with Flotilla and also trained Canndal to a runner-up finish in the Belmont Derby in 2015; and Pia Brandt trainee Called To The Bar, exiting his second straight win with a two-length score in the Group 3 Prix du Lys at 1 ½ miles at Saint-Cloud.
O’Brien’s horses are expected to arrive at Belmont Park on Tuesday, July 4, while a flight from France is scheduled to land in New York July 1. Group 1 French Oaks runner-up Sistercharlie is also due to arrive from Europe next week to make her first start for trainer Chad Brown in the Belmont Oaks.
The full list of Belmont Derby and Oaks invitations are available athttps://www.nyra.com/belmont/horsemen.
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