The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival kicks off Thursday with a trio of stakes, including Zindaya’s title defense of the $150,000 Intercontinental.

Winner of the seven-furlong, Widener turf test for fillies and mares by 2 1/4 lengths last season for Christophe Clement, Zindaya was subsequently sold for $550,000 at the Keeneland November sale. Making her first start in 10 months in the $95,000 License Fee on May 1, and her first for new trainer Chad Brown, Zindaya finished a clear second to division heavyweight Lady Shipman, with Grade 2 veteran and returning rival Shrinking Violet third.

In addition to that pair, the Intercontinental has also attracted Mississippi Delta, runner-up in the Nassau (G2) and Honey Fox (G2) in her last two, and Grade 2 winner Miss Ella, second to Lady Shipman in the Coronation Cup at Saratoga in one of her prior turf outings. Another intriguing entry is La Berma, who was multiple Group-placed in France but ran below par in her U.S. debut in last month’s Royal Heroine (G2).

The $200,000 Astoria, a 5 1/2-furlong dash for juvenile fillies, has attracted a slew of debut winners from around the country. Keeneland graduates Lightning Dove and China Grove, the Todd Pletcher-trained Bode’s Dream, local maiden breaker Olive Branch, and the Bill Mott charge Harlands Thunder are among the possible market leaders.

New to the stakes schedule is the $200,000 Belmont Coronation, an invitational for fillies and mares at 1 15/16 miles on the inner turf. Generosidade, who upset males in the San Luis Rey (G2) and finished second in the San Juan Capistrano (G3) the following month, looks like the one to beat, though Dueling Grounds Oaks winner Return to Grace could take some catching after showing a rare display of speed in her most recent outing.

(NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)