By Bob Ehalt
The fireworks may be over, but the New York Racing Association has managed to save some rather explosive stakes for Saturday’s Stars and Stripes Festival at Belmont Park.
Five stakes highlight the card with two of them carrying a value of at least a million dollars and Grade 1 status.
The biggest prize is the $1.2 million Belmont Derby Invitational, a mile-and-a-quarter turf stakes for 3-year-olds.
The field of nine includes two European shippers and features a lively rematch between Catholic Boy (4-1 morning line) and Analyze It (5-2).
In last month’s Pennine Ridge at Belmont, the traditional prep for the Belmont Derby, Catholic Boy set the pace, only to be collared in mid-stretch by the odds-on 1-5 favorite Analyze It, who opened a length lead at the eighth pole. But just when the race seemed over, jockey Javier Castellano snatched up Catholic Boy, steered him outside of Analyze It and surged to a stunning neck victory.
Aside from those two, the United States contingent includes My Boy Jack (6-1), who was fifth in the Kentucky Derby, Penn Mile winner Hawkish (7-2), Channel Cat (30-1), Encumbered (30-1) and Maraud (12-1).
From overseas, Europe’s top trainer Aidan O’Brien will send out Group 3 winner Hunting Horn (7-2) and Kingstar (12-1) will ship in for Team Valor International.
The $1 million Belmont Oaks, also at 10 furlongs on the turf, drew a field of 10 evenly matched 3-year-old fillies.
The top three finishers in the Wonder Again, La Signare (4-1), Significant Form (7-2) and Mighty Scarlett (8-1), should be formidable again.
The rest of the field includes Chipolata (15-1), Paved (12-1), Capla Temptress (6-1), Toinette (5-1), Athena (9-2), Fatale Bere (20-1) and the Thewayiam (10-1).
In the other stakes, the $700,000 Suburban Stakes offers an interesting duel between 2017 Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit (7-2), the Bob Baffert-trained duo of Dr. Dorr (3-1) and Hoppertunity (9-2), and 2017 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Diversify (6-1).
The $300,000 Dwyer marks the return to the United States of Mendelssohn (8-5) who was 20th and last in the Kentucky Derby after winning the UAE Derby in Dubai by 18 ½ lengths, and the $350,000 Belmont Sprint Championship brings together Limousine Liberal (9-5) and Whitmore (2-1).
The Dwyer, Belmont Sprint Championship, a Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In race, and the Belmont Oaks will be aired on NBC from 4:30-6 p.m.
Big Money Handicapping Challenge on tap
For Winners customers, Saturday also marks another Big Money Handicapping Challenge with a guaranteed prize pool of $7,500 off races at Belmont, Monmouth, Delaware Park and Woodbine.
Also, I’ll be offering selections throughout the day on the My Winners Twitter account (@MyWinnersCT). Hope you’ll follow along.