It may be the Fourth of July holiday weekend, but on Saturday the invasion is coming, as four overseas invaders will converge on Belmont Park, hoping to take home the lion’s share of a $1 million purse in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational.
The 1 1/4-mile turf race is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race. The winner earns an automatic starting sport in this fall’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, to be contested at Santa Anita on Oct. 31-Nov. 1.
The race will be televised live on NBC Sports Network, with the one-hour telecast getting underway at 5 p.m. ET.
The Belmont Oaks is one of five graded stakes on an outstanding card that includes the $1.25 million Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational, $400,000 Grade 3 Dwyer, $400,000 Grade 3 Belmont Sprint Championship and the $500,000 Grade 2 Suburban Handicap.
Previously named the Garden City, this race has been won by trainer Chad Brown the past two years, with Samitar in 2012 and Alterite last year. Brown has two contenders this year, Goldy Espony and Minorette.
With rain falling on Friday, the turf course figures to be less than firm, which should play right into the hands of the overseas invaders, who usually have more experience on running on ground with some give to it.
Xcellence is one of four Euro invaders in the field, and she has been keeping good company. She ran third in her last two starts behind the highly regarded Avenir Certain in the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches at Longchamp and most recently in the Prix de Diane Longines at Chantilly, both Group 1 races.
The filly has handled any type of ground including a nose loss over heavy going last fall in the Group 3 Prix Miesque. With rain in the forecast on Friday, the turf figures to be yielding. The filly has been forwardly placed in most of her starts, which should suit her well on the inner turf at Belmont Park.
Goldy Espony won three of her seven starts overseas and makes her U.S. debut after landing with the Chad Brown barn that is 24 percent winners with runners making their North American debut. She faded to finish seventh in her last outing—the Group 1 Saint-Allary over soft footing—after winning her two previous starts, taking the Group 3 Prix Penelope two back at Saint Cloud in France at 1 5/16 miles.
She makes her U.S. debut with Lasix, and the barn has been very live at the current meeting, hitting at a 31 percent clip.
Flying Jib is another Euro invader who may have more upside than any of the others. She won the Group 3 Athasi Stakes last time out at Curragh in Ireland after a seven-month layoff going seven furlongs. She has not been beyond a mile but has enough pedigree to handle the extra ground. She is by Oasis Dream out of the stakes winner Jibboom ($487,600).
The best hope among the U.S. runners is Room Service, who is coming off a victory in the American Oaks (G1) at Santa Anita over firm ground going 1 1/4 miles. The filly has won three races in a row, winning the Herecomesthebride (G3) over turf at Gulfstream Park on March 2 followed by a dead-heat win in the Ashland (G1) at Keeneland over polytrack.
With the condition of the turf course likely to play in the favor of the Euros, I am going with Xcellence, who has been facing tougher competition in Europe. She is proven over any type of ground, and I hope we get most of her 5-2 morning-line odds. The value of the race may be Goldy Espony if she goes off near her 10-1 odds. I will be using those two on top of my exactas with Flying Jib and Room Service.
For my trifecta play, I am going to add Wonderfully and Sea Queen in the third slot and possibly long shot Summer Solo, who makes her stakes debut and figures to be a generous price.
Morning-line odds courtesy of The New York Racing Association.
Follow Michael Dempsey on Twitter @turfnsport
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