Clear your schedule for Saturday afternoon, fire up your biggest television, and get ready for an exciting afternoon of horse racing! Starting at 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports will provide live coverage of three prestigious races at Belmont Park and Kentucky Downs, including the inaugural running of the $1 million Jockey Club Derby, a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf.
The 1 ½-mile feature race at Belmont serves as the third and final leg of the New York Racing Association’s new “Turf Trinity.” Although a sweep of the series isn’t on the line, the Jockey Club Derby will still provide an intriguing showdown between #3 Henley’s Joy and #1 A Thread of Blue, the winners of the first two legs of the series.
But trouble befell Henley’s Joy once again in the 1 3/16-mile Saratoga Derby. He got shuffled back a bit in the run to the first turn and wound up racing in ninth place, much farther behind than in the Belmont Derby. He was further compromised by a slow early/fast late race shape - with the final three-sixteenths of a mile elapsing in just :16.59 seconds, Henley’s Joy didn’t have a realistic chance to win, so he deserves credit for closing some ground to finish fifth by 4 ¼ lengths.
Meanwhile, A Thread of Blue took full advantage of the Saratoga Derby’s slow early pace. Waltzing along on an uncontested lead, A Thread of Blue kicked clear at the top of the stretch and gamely held off the closers to prevail by a length in 1:52.02, missing the course record set in 1999 by just 0.41.
In theory, A Thread of Blue could shake loose on another uncontested lead in the Jockey Club Derby. On paper, the race contains very little speed, so unless one of the European shippers shows a surprising amount of get-up-and-go, A Thread of Blue should have the lead all to himself.
But can A Thread of Blue stretch his speed over 1 ½ miles? That’s the tougher question. This is a challenging distance and while A Thread of Blue has a reasonably stamina-oriented pedigree, Henley’s Joy is the colt who really figures to thrive going 1 ½ miles. His sire, the champion turf male Kitten’s Joy, relished this distance and has already sired a multitude of high-class, long-distance turf winners.
#8 Digital Age, fourth in the Belmont Derby and second in the Saratoga Derby, defeated both Henley’s Joy and A Thread of Blue in the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes presented by Ram Trucks at Churchill Downs in the spring. Conditioned by Chad Brown, Digital Age rallied resiliently in the Saratoga Derby and might have caught A Thread of Blue with a slightly more favorable pace setup. #6 Tone Broke warrants respect too; he produced a strong finish to win the 1 ½-mile Breeders’ Stakes at Woodbine in his turf debut.
But the real wildcard in the Jockey Club Derby is #9 Spanish Mission. This son of Noble Mission has shown serious stamina and class in Europe, winning the 1 5/8-mile Group 3 Bahrain Trophy Stakes at Newmarket by four lengths before finishing third in the 1 ½-mile Group 2 Qatar Gordon Stakes at Goodwood.
Spanish Mission’s performance in the Gordon was particularly noteworthy. He didn’t get the cleanest run down the stretch, but was still beaten only a neck against the quality colts Nayef Road (previously runner-up in the Bahrain Trophy) and Constantinople.
The course at Goodwood was wet and labeled “good” for the Gordon, a contrast to the drier “good to firm” conditions Spanish Mission encountered at Newmarket. Although he would have been a logical contender for the Sept. 14 St. Leger Stakes, the third leg of the British Triple Crown, Spanish Mission’s connections have chosen to run him at Belmont instead, where he’s more likely to encounter firm ground.
This is a noteworthy move since Spanish Mission’s trainer, David Simcock, has excelled with his infrequent runners in North America, nabbing Grade 1 prizes with Trade Storm, Sheikhzayedroad, I’m A Dreamer, and Desert Encounter. Considering Spanish Mission’s proven class and stamina, he seems well-spotted to vie for victory in the Belmont Derby.
So how do we take all of these opinions and turn them into a winning strategy? If you’re playing on a small budget, I suggest betting Spanish Mission to win and keying him in the exacta with Henley’s Joy and Digital Age. If you have a larger budget, you can seek an even bigger score by keying Spanish Mission in the trifecta.
Wagering Strategy on a $12 Budget
$6 to win on #9 Spanish Mission
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 10th race, $6 to win on #9 Spanish Mission
$1 exacta: 9 with 3,8 ($2)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 10th race, $1 exacta 9 with 3,8
$2 exacta: 3,8 with 9 ($4)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 10th race, $2 exacta 3,8 with 9
Wagering Strategy on a $24 Budget
$8 to win on #9 Spanish Mission
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 10th race, $8 to win on #9 Spanish Mission
$1 trifecta: 9 with 3,8 with 1,3,6,8 ($6)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 10th race, $1 trifecta 9 with 3,8 with 1,3,6,8
$1 trifecta: 9 with 1,6 with 3,8 ($4)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 10th race, $1 trifecta 9 with 1,6 with 3,8
$1 trifecta: 3,8 with 9 with 1,3,6,8 ($6)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 10th race, $1 trifecta 3,8 with 9 with 1,3,6,8
Good luck, and enjoy the race!