Bolshoi Ballet prevails in G1 Belmont Derby Invitational
by Ryan Martin
Saturday morning was met with unfortunate news as Coolmore’s internationally acclaimed stallion Galileo passed away at the stud operation’s Ireland division. But the influential sire’s presence was very much felt at Belmont Park this afternoon when his progeny Bolshoi Ballet, proved much the best with a 1 ¼-length triumph in the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational.
The 1 ¼-mile inner turf test is the first leg of the Turf Triple series, which also includes the Grade 1, $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational on August 7 and the $1 million Jockey Club Derby on September 18 at Belmont Park.
Owned by Coolmore partners Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Westerberg and trained by Aidan O’Brien, the Irish-bred Bolshoi Ballet arrived at the Belmont Derby off a disappointing seventh as the favorite in the Group 1 Epsom Derby on June 5 – a race won by his late sire in 2001. Bolshoi Ballet exited the Epsom Derby with a cut to his right hind leg, but the talented sophomore colt put his best foot forward Saturday under jockey Ryan Moore to notch his first Grade/Group 1 victory.
The Belmont Derby triumph added to O’Brien’s recent global success. Last weekend, the Irish champion trainer sent out St. Mark’s Basilica to victory in the Group 1 Coral Eclipse on July 3 at Sandown in Great Britain as well as Broome, who shipped to France to capture the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud on July 4. The victory came just two races after Moore piloted the highly-regarded filly Santa Barbara to victory in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational for the same connections.
Bolshoi Ballet broke sharply from post 2 and was placed toward the rear of the field as Hard Love set the early tempo through easy fractions of 24.61 for the quarter-mile and 51.34 for the half-mile over a good inner turf course. Down the backstretch, Bolshoi Ballet advanced in between horses while being nudged slightly by Moore.
Through three-quarters in 1:17.26, Moore again asked Bolshoi Ballet as he appeared to drop back approaching the far turn. Bolshoi Ballet was fanned five wide approaching the quarter-pole with Cellist and Hard Love battling for command. The former assumed control just past the eighth-pole, but class prevailed as Bolshoi Ballet moved past Cellist in the final strides, completing the journey in 2:04.42.
Fellow European invader Tokyo Gold rallied late to get second, a neck ahead of third-place finisher Cellist.
The win marked a second Belmont Derby victory for O’Brien and the Coolmore partners, who won in 2016 with Deauville.
Following a juvenile campaign which included a four-length maiden triumph over yielding going on October 16 at Leopardstown, Bolshoi Ballet commenced his sophomore season with decisive wins in the Ballysax on April 11 and the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial on May 9 – both are Group 3 events at 1 ¼ miles at Leopardstown.
T.J. Comerford, O’Brien’s travelling assistant, said Bolshoi Ballet was talented enough to prosper despite the good going.
“The ground was probably a little bit slow for him, because he likes quick ground, but he did well at the finish because he had a good gallop and that helped him,” said Comerford. “Ideally, he probably wants tougher ground. In fairness to him, his class pulled it out at the end of the day, and you have to be happy with it.”
Moore said Bolshoi Ballet has yet to display his best run.
“It felt like they were going very slow,” Moore said. “This horse, we know he gets the 10 [furlongs] very well. It was a messy race and he won comfortably without being able to show how good he is. We’re happy with him. He's the most beautiful horse you'll see. He's a real athlete. He's a class horse.
“With a furlong to run, you could see he was just waiting; having a look and his ears were going,” Moore continued. “He’s still getting used to knowing what he has to do. We think there's more to come. Potentially, I suppose he could be a Breeders’ Cup Turf horse.”
Bred in Ireland by Lynch-Bages and Rhinestone Bloodstock, Bolshoi Ballet is out of the Anabaa mare Alta Anna. He is a full brother to Southern France, who was a dual grouped-winning stayer in Ireland and Australia.
Bolshoi Ballet, who returned $4.10 as the favorite, banked $535,000 in victory and catapulted his lifetime earnings to $638,454. His record stands at 7-4-0-1.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who rode Tokyo Gold, said that he would have benefitted from a more tactical position aboard the Group 2 Italian Derby winner.
“He ran really well. I wish I had a little better position in the first part of the race, but I was right behind the winner the whole way, so I [figured] I might as well stay there,” Velazquez said. “He’s pretty handy and when I asked, he ran. The other horse was just a little better than us.”
Jockey Julien Leparoux spoke volumes of third-place finisher Cellist, who he has piloted in all five of his career starts, including a last-out victory in the Audubon on May 29 at Churchill Downs.
“We had a great trip. I think he's improving every race,” Leparoux said. “He just got beat by a better horse today. He's still learning a lot. Every race, he shows up and improves.”
Du Jour, Sainthood, Palazzi, Hard Love, Safe Conduct and Hidden Enemy completed the order of finish.
Live racing resumes on Sunday at Belmont Park, Closing Day of the 48-day spring/summer meet, with a nine-race card that features the $150,000 River Memories for fillies and mares going 1 ½ miles over the Widener turf course. First post is 12:30 p.m.
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