Harvey Diamond leads Da Big Hoss into the winner’s circle following his victory in the 2016 Belmont Gold Cup
The Grade 3, $ 400,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational will take on a distinct international flair as part of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, presented by NYRA Bets, with six European runners in the competitive field of 13 on Friday at Belmont Park, including a return engagement by last year’s runner-up, multiple stakes winner Now We Can.
Conditioned by French trainer Nicolas Clement, brother of New York-based trainer Christophe Clement, Now We Can was a late-running second to Da Big Hoss in last year’s edition after breaking from the outside post 12 and racing six wide through the final turn to finish 1 ½ lengths back.
An 8-year-old gelding by the German sire Martillo, Now We Can has been in the money in 14 of his 22 starts, with seven lifetime wins, including five straight in 2012-13 in France. He was fourth in his most recent start in the 1 7/8-mile Group 3 Prix de Barbeville at Chantilly.
“I’m very pleased with how he’s been, and he ran very well there last year so we’re hoping for another good performance,” said Clement from France. “He had a very good year last year and we’d like to get that going again.
“He’s an 8-year-old now, but he’s a frequent flyer,” he added. “My brother will deputize for me; they have been checking in on the horse and they say he looks very good, and his appetite is good. He’s been a consistent horse, he stays, so this race is very good for him.”
Now We Can will be reunited with Julien Leparoux, who was aboard last year. The pair will break from post 3.
At two miles on the Widener turf, the Belmont Gold Cup, upgraded to Grade 3 status in just its fourth running, has also attracted the attention of new international shooters Red Cardinal, Wall of Fire, St Michel, Clondaw Warrior and Wicklow Brave.
Red Cardinal will make his North American debut for trainer Andreas Wohler, who will be represented by three-time group stakes winner Potemkin for the Grade 1, $ 1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan on Saturday.
Red Cardinal, an Irish-bred gelding by Montjeu, won his first race at two miles last time out in the Group 2 Oleander-Rennen, closing well over a good turf course at Hoppegarten Race Course and holding off a bid from Irish stakes winner Nearly Caught to win by 1 ¼ lengths.
“We were a little surprised that he ran that well on that ground on that day, and the horse closest to him was a very decent horse, but he’s been improving,” said Wohler by phone. “We expected him to run well at two miles. He has been fine after that race and they traveled well and everything is on track.”
Red Cardinal has drawn post 10 and will have the services of jockey Eduardo Pedroza, who had the mount at Hoppegarten.
Champion European jumps trainer Willie P. Mullins will be represented by jump- and flat-race winners Wicklow Brave and Clondaw Warrior.
Wicklow Brave, an 8-year-old Beat Hollow gelding, won the Group 1 Irish St. Leger last September but failed to fire in his season-closer, finishing 22nd of 24 in the famed Melbourne Cup in November. He got back to his winning ways, however, in his second race of the year, with a 1 ½-length victory in the Grade 1 Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
Clondaw Warrior, a 10-year-old gelding by Overbury, will be cutting back to the two-mile distance as he makes his first flat-race start since September, when he was a well-beaten eighth in the Group 2 Doncaster Cup. Prior to that, he posted a solid runner-up effort to Da Big Hoss in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 American St. Leger at Arlington Park.
Wicklow Brave will be ridden by Javier Castellano from post 12, while Clondaw Warrior will have the services of Hall of Famer John Velazquez from post 5.
Looking to lead the American charge is Taghleeb, from the Mike Maker barn. A 6-year-old son of Hard Spun, Taghleeb posted back-to-back victories this winter in Florida, taking the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens by 1 ¾ lengths and the Grade 3 W. L. McKnight by a head at Gulfstream Park. He was a close fourth to Sadler’s Joy in the Grade 2 Pan American in April and ventured north to Belmont the following month, finishing second to European filly invader Zhukova on a yielding inner turf course in the Grade 1 Man o’ War on May 13.
Jose Ortiz will ride Taghleeb from post 11.
Rounding out the field for the Belmont Gold Cup are Grade 3 Sycamore winner Renown, riding a three-race win streak for trainer Elizabeth Voss; Irish invader Wall of Fire for conditioner Hugo Palmer; St Michel, third in his first stakes try last September, for Sir Mark Prescott; stakes-placed Hunter O’Riley from the Jimmy Toner barn; Bullards Alley, third to Some in Tieme in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap on May 20, for Tim Glyshaw; Roman Approval, winner of four of his six starts on the Widener turf, for David Cannizzo; and graded stakes-placed Wayward Kitten for Wesley Ward.
The Belmont Gold Cup will kick off a $ 300,000 Guaranteed Two-Day Double, ending with the 149th running of the Grade 1, $ 1.5 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 10.
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