The European shippers tackling Friday’s $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational (G2) all have potential along with question marks. Two are known for prowess on synthetic – Mootasadir and Amade – and the one with proper turf form, Raa Atoll, just scored a surprising career high off a layoff.

RAA ATOLL

Raa Atoll’s profile as a late developer with plenty of stamina fits his pedigree. His sire, the all-time great Sea the Stars, is responsible for reigning European champion stayer Stradivarius (the one to beat in his Ascot Gold Cup [G1] title defense) as well as such classic winners as Sea of Class, Taghrooda, Sea the Moon, and Harzand. His dam, the winning Meetyouthere, reinforces the picture as a daughter of Sadler’s Wells and Infamy. The 1988 Rothmans International (G1) heroine, Infamy produced four stakes winners including Group/Grade 2 scorers Moon Queen (a full sister to Meetyouthere) and Innuendo. Both were successful broodmares themselves, Innuendo notably producing multiple Grade 2 vixen Criticism. This is also the deep family of 1990 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) hero In the Wings and 1998 Derby (G1) winner High-Rise. By the time Raa Atoll was offered as a weanling at Tattersalls December, his half-sister, Moderah, had just placed third in the 2015 St Simon (G3) at Newbury. With a page like that, the foal commanded 200,000 guineas ($315,756) from China Horse Club. Unraced at two, Raa Atoll made his debut last April in a 1 1/4-mile event at Newmarket for John Gosden. The stable vibe was cool enough because he went off at 20-1, but he exceeded expectations in second. Green early in the rear, he stayed on relentlessly, passed favored stablemate Argentello, and chased home Godolphin’s Nordic Lights. Raa Atoll was odds-on next time at Nottingham, where adopted a new running style, tracking the leader and forging clear. He took another step forward winning over nearly 1 1/2 miles at Leicester. It was a carbon copy trip, except that he had a challenger in the stretch and re-broke to win handsomely. Ready for a class test in the King Edward VII (G2) at Royal Ascot, Raa Atoll ranked as the 7-2 second choice, bettors backing Aidan O’Brien’s Delano Roosevelt coming off a sixth in the Derby. Since Raa Atoll was drawn on the rail, Frankie Dettori made use of his tactical speed to set the steady pace. Godolphin’s Old Persian was glued to his flank, though, and subdued him in the stretch. To his credit, Raa Atoll stuck on once passed, and altered course to try to come again before settling for fourth. He was edged by couple of useful O’Brien runners in Rostropovich (the future Irish Derby [G1] runner-up and Melbourne Cup [G1] fifth) and Giuseppe Garibaldi. The victorious Old Persian went on to supply the most significant form updates, capturing the Great Voltigeur (G2) over Cross Counter and Kew Gardens and adding this year’s Dubai City of Gold (G2) and Sheema Classic (G1) on World Cup night. Raa Atoll’s respectable effort at Royal Ascot propelled him to the Princess of Wales’s (G2) at Newmarket’s July Festival. Although lining up against older horses, he was the close second choice at 11-4, with Mirage Dancer the 2-1 favorite. Unfortunately, something was amiss because he dropped back abruptly, eased, and never raced again the rest of the season – or for connections. Sent back through the Tattersalls ring for the Autumn Horses in Training Sale, Raa Atoll sold for just 30,000 guineas ($40,103) to wealthy property developer-cum-trainer Luke Comer. That didn’t exactly suggest he was on the verge of a renaissance, considering the rarity of winners from Comer’s County Meath yard. Raa Atoll was accordingly a 32-1 longshot when resurfacing in the May 12 Oleander-Rennen (G2), joined by his 34-1 stablemate (and O’Brien castoff) Zabriskie. It looked for all the world like Comer wanted to have runners in the Hoppegarten feature sponsored by his firm, Comer Group International. Not only was Raa Atoll resuming from a lengthy layoff, but he was untested beyond 1 1/2 miles, and now he was trying two miles and foreign travel. All of those reasonable concerns amounted to nothing as Raa Atoll upset Thomas Hobson, the Doncaster Cup (G2) winner and 1-2 favorite. A fellow Irish shipper trained by the prolific Willie Mullins, Thomas Hobson was previously seen finishing second to Stradivarius in last October’s British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2). That’s a serious piece of collateral form for Raa Atoll, if you can take it literally. Attending the pace, Raa Atoll kicked on too strongly for Thomas Hobson to catch and handed Comer by far his biggest win. The Oleander-Rennen offers an automatic invitation to the Belmont Gold Cup, and in 2017, Red Cardinal turned the double. The year prior, Wasir won the Oleander-Rennen en route to a third in the 2016 American St Leger (G3), so it’s a proven launching pad for European stayers to points abroad. Raa Atoll is already labeled as a Melbourne Cup candidate, and Comer’s reportedly even considered a rapid turnaround for the June 20 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. As a tactical stayer with form, Raa Atoll must be respected. But how will he react second up, after posting a career best in his comeback from a 10-month layoff? He has loads of potential on the international scene; it’s just a matter of whether he can continue his upward curve in this particular spot.

MOOTASADIR

Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum’s homebred is a perfect six-for-six on the all-weather, but unplaced from three tries on turf. The conundrum is whether he’s simply been the victim of circumstances so far on the grass, or if the record is an accurate reflection of his ability on each surface. The Belmont Gold Cup could be the decisive factor for trainer Hugo Palmer, who believes Mootasadir might be one for the Melbourne Cup. The beautifully bred Mootasadir is by Dansili and out of the high-class Galileo mare Mahbooba, who was herself adept on turf and synthetic. A champion two-year-old filly in South Africa, Mahbooba was a Dubai Carnival campaigner for Mike de Kock. She landed the 2011 UAE 1000 Guineas and placed to Godolphin’s Khawlah in both the UAE Oaks (G3) and UAE Derby (G2), then staged on Meydan’s Tapeta. Mahbooba later added two more turf stakes wins, the Godolphin S. at Newmarket and the 2012 Balanchine (G2) back at Meydan. Mootasadir began his career as a sophomore by winning two straight on the all-weather. After rallying to prevail over a mile on Chelmsford’s Polytrack, he again finished strongly on the stretch-out to about 1 3/16 miles on Wolverhampton’s Tapeta. Switching to turf for a Doncaster handicap last June, Mootasadir suffered his first loss in fourth. Perhaps the combination of carrying top weight of 133 pounds on soft going was too much. Mootasadir tried an August 4 handicap at Newmarket on good-to-firm, and ended up tailed off, reportedly unable to cope with the uneven track. Clearly much was expected of the 11-4 chance since he’d lured Dettori aboard. Palmer wisely went back to synthetic, and Mootasadir responded with an emphatic victory over Kempton’s Polytrack September 7. Taking up a handier position in third on the step up to virtually 1 3/8 miles, he split foes in the stretch and drew off. Next Mootasadir seized the opportunity offered by the Diamond (G3) on Dundalk’s Polytrack to bag a stakes. He was a workmanlike but ultimately convincing winner over Global Giant, who was coming off a second to Sir Michael Stoute’s Fabricate in the Winter Hill (G3). Global Giant came right back to land the Carlingford at the Diamond track and trip. After Dubai plans were scrapped, Mootasadir returned to action in a March 4 handicap at Wolverhampton, lugging top weight of 135 pounds to victory going 1 1/2 miles. Back down to 1 1/4 miles for the Magnolia S. at Kempton, he relished the fast pace that played right to his stamina and extended his perfect record on synthetic, despite shouldering 131 pounds. This listed event was deeper than the nominally Group 3 Diamond, for the beaten crowd included Matterhorn (undone by the pace war with Robin of Navan) and the aforementioned Fabricate. Now that the maturing Mootasadir was in the form of his life, Palmer made another turf attempt in the May 17 Yorkshire Cup (G2). But again he failed to fire on the surface and trudged home sixth, 18 lengths behind Stradivarius. Palmer has a hypothesis that Mootasadir needs a totally level track. Hence his interest in giving him a chance at Belmont. It’s true that he just hasn’t looked comfortable on the British turf, although you’d have thought a course like York would suit. Mootasadir also has to answer a distance question. While his all-weather performances suggest he’s got stamina in spades, he’s yet to race past 1 1/2 miles on his pet surface (and the 1 3/4-mile Yorkshire Cup doesn’t establish much). According to Racing Post, Palmer and jockey Ben Curtis both envision Mootasadir going forward from his rail draw. We’ll know soon enough if he’s taking to the turf.

AMADE

As a French synthetic aficionado who competed in Britain’s All-Weather Championships, Amade has a profile vaguely reminiscent of Funny Kid, the fifth-placer in last year’s Belmont Gold Cup. But Funny Kid owned a higher level of turf form, making the parallel more of a concern for Amade. On the plus side, the five-year-old gelding has only 12 starts under his belt, and just two on turf, so further progress is possible. Trainer Alessandro Botti told Jour de Galop that Amade had several minor issues earlier that required patience – an approach that is yielding dividends now. By the Shamardal stallion Casamento, Amade is a half-brother to Group 3 winner Nakuti, who was third in the 2016 Dance Smartly (G2). You wouldn’t guess that his broodmare sire is Five Star Day, but his dam is a half-sister to Arch Rebel, a stakes winner on Flat and over hurdles. His second dam is a daughter of Alysheba and Grade 1 winner Pattern Step, from the productive family of Archarcharch and Bullards Alley. Gelded at two and not making the races until three, Amade won twice on the synthetic at Lyon La Soie in fall 2017 before being sidelined. He popped up again last August in two claiming races on Deauville’s Polytrack, finishing sixth when well short of fitness but improving to second next time. The turning point came when Amade made his first try at a marathon trip. Stepping up to about 1 7/8 miles on the turf at Dax September 16, he swept to the lead on final turn and powered clear. Amade reverted to synthetic at Marseille Pont de Vivaux for a handicap, circling the field from last to win for fun. Despite the fact that the longtime project was finally coming good, co-owner Scuderia Magenta decided to sell him at Arqana in November. Botti and his father/training partner, Giuseppe, were able to keep him in their yard for a bid of €34,000 ($38,859). Ironically that was the cheapest of his four auction prices, having fetched €80,000 as a yearling at Goffs February; 62,000 guineas at Tattersalls October; and €50,000 as an Arqana May juvenile. Amade rewarded the faith promptly in a November 27 conditions race on Deauville’s Polytrack, again rolling from far back to score at about 2 1/8 miles. Then he took his deep-closing game on the road to Britain. After staying on stoutly in a January 5 handicap at Kempton, Amade bested Elegiac (the subsequent winner of Nottingham’s Further Flight) in a March 7 Chelmsford conditions event to make it five in a row. That caught the attention of OTI Racing, and the Australian-based operation bought into Amade. He now ranked as the odds-on favorite for the April 19 All-Weather Marathon Championships at Lingfield, only to be overturned by Watersmeet, who had placed in the past two runnings. Last year, Watersmeet was third, beaten a neck by Funny Kid. Connections believe that the race didn’t set up right for him, and jockey Christophe Soumillon said he moved sooner than he liked as a result. The pace doesn’t figure to be overly strong at Belmont, so although his stamina is never in doubt, he could be outkicked by those with a sharper turn of foot. Considering that his turf win came on good-to-soft, Amade would appreciate it if the rain in Wednesday’s forecast is significant or hangs around longer than expected. Belmont Park scenic (c) NYRA/Coglianese Photography