Racing Roundtable: Belmont Derby and Oaks, Idiomatic

July 11th, 2023

James Scully, Ashley Anderson, and Vance Hanson gather along the roundtable to discuss the results from a pair of Grade 1 turf events for three-year-olds, the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks, and Delaware H. (G2) winner Idiomatic's rise in the older female dirt division.

Who’s the horse to take from the Belmont Derby: Far Bridge or troubled runner-up The Foxes?

James Scully: The Foxes got the worst of it trip-wise, breaking slowly and getting checked entering the far turn, but I will take Far Bridge — he’s better-suited to the 1 1/2-mile distance of the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) and improved significantly from an ugly second in the Pennine Ridge (G2), where he raced in spots.

By Breeders’ Cup Turf winner English Channel and out of a mare by Kitten’s Joy, Far Bridge made only his fifth start on Saturday. He opened his racing career in late January, with maiden and entry-level allowance wins, but lacked focus finishing second in the American Turf (G2) and Pennine Ridge. He progressed from a mental standpoint in the Belmont Derby, and Far Bridge remains very promising for Todd Pletcher.

Ashley Anderson: After suffering his only two career losses, when beaten to second by a nose and a length in the 1 1/16-mile American Turf and 1 1/8-mile Pennine Ridge, Far Bridge earned his first graded stakes victory while proving the added distance was a winning formula for the English Channel son. The Todd Pletcher pupil settled comfortably off the pace before picking up stride inside the three-sixteenths and rallied into the final furlong, closing strongly with a 102 Late Pace figure to beat the 2-1 favorite The Foxes by a length.

A slow start hampered The Foxes, who showed good energy when rallying to finish second, with a similar 102 Late Pace figure. A better break from the gate might have made the difference for the Churchill (IRE) colt, who had won at today’s distance two back in the Dubai Dante S. (G2) at York, but going forward, I like Far Bridge’s potential, especially at 10-furlong distances or greater. He’ll likely next try the second leg of the Turf Triple Series, the 1 3/16-mile Saratoga Derby, and he can succeed in the 1 3/8-mile Jockey Club Derby, the third leg of the series, as well.

Vance Hanson: I think The Foxes, given his European background and the relatively worse trip he received in the Derby, remains the better of the two, all things being equal. We may find out in a potential Saratoga Derby (G1) rematch. On the other hand, given the trip was in part his fault (slow start), it might be difficult for him to work out a better one at Saratoga, which is in a slightly shorter race and over a smaller configuration. Far Bridge is also trip-dependent, and he got a far better one in the Belmont Derby than he had in either the Pennine Ridge or American Turf, but The Foxes' ability to start alertly is a potentially more imposing hurdle to overcome going forward.

What did you make of Aspen Grove’s upset of the Belmont Oaks?

JS: It exposed the U.S. three-year-old filly turf division. Aspen Grove was exiting a pair of underwhelming performances in Ireland this year, and her lone previous win came via a 66-1 upset over a suspect group of rivals last August. After breaking slowly, she rallied well to win going away by about a length at 15-1 odds, but the Belmont Oaks didn't come back fast, nearly 2 1/2 seconds slower than the Belmont Derby two races later.

Aspen Grove did provide sire Justify with an important Grade 1 win at 1 1/4 miles. Hero of the 2018 Triple Crown, Justify found immediate success with his first crop last year at stud, but he was starting to build a reputation for siring horses who preferred sprint/middle distances, not classic types. Aspen Grove is out of a More Than Ready mare who excelled at a mile, I doubted her threshold for Saturday's distance, and she delivered a career-best performance while stretching out to 10 furlongs for the first time.

AA: Under the same rider as The Foxes, Aspen Grove broke in similarly slow fashion under Oisin Murphy but saved ground on the first turn before rallying into the final furlong and closing well to prevail by three-quarters of a length as a 15-1 longshot.

The inconsistent Justify filly was last seen finishing last of 10 in the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) to Tahiyra, but a step down in class helped her score just her second career victory in seven starts. She’s likely to stay in the U.S. for the summer and may aim for the Del Mar Oaks (G1) or Saratoga Oaks (G1), but I’m not sold on the Fozzy Stack trainee, who can be temperamental and is “nowhere to be found in her bad races," as Glen Hill Farm’s Craig Bernick said. She struggled in Group 1 races but was third in the Cornelscourt S. (G3) and broke her maiden in a Group 3 in her third career start.

Aspen Grove chased a pedestrian early pace in the Belmont Oaks and flashed a 103 Late Pace figure to edge pacesetter Prerequisite, but I think she has more to prove as she makes her second U.S. start.

VH: Once you take into account the published reports that Aspen Grove was in season when faring so poorly in the Irish 1000 Guineas, which I didn't beforehand, her upset doesn't seem too surprising in retrospect. However, the fact an import that far down the pecking order in Europe just toppled what passes for the cream of the U.S. division makes it look all the more modest. It was a much slower race than the Belmont Derby, too, so I wouldn't be surprised if a true leader (unless it's a fresh face) has difficulty emerging this summer or fall.

Can Del ‘Cap winner Idiomatic become a major player in the older female division?

JS: Yes, she’s on her way. Idiomatic opened her racing career in the spring last year but made only two appearances before heading to the sidelines, returning this winter at Turfway Park. She reeled off three consecutive wins over the Tapeta, including the Latonia S., before a runner-up in her first dirt stakes attempt, the Ruffian (G2) at Belmont in early May. That experience benefited Idiomatic, who has come on in the last two starts for Brad Cox.

After comfortably leading all the way in the June 3 Shawnee (G3) at Churchill Downs, the four-year-old daughter of Curlin showed her versatility overcoming a bad stumble at the start of the Delaware H., rallying from off the pace to prevail by a head over a rival who had a dream trip on the front end. Idiomatic registered an encouraging 103 Brisnet Speed rating, her second consecutive triple-digit number, and the improving filly may have more to offer.

AA: With just one loss in her last six starts, with a 5 1/2-length second to Pass the Champagne, Idiomatic overcame a stumbled start, recovered, and prevailed late to beat Classy Edition by a head in the 1 1/16-mile Delaware H. (G2). The Curlin filly flashed a career-best 103 BRIS figure in addition to a career-high 102 Late Pace rating, and she has shown steady improvement from a Brisnet Speed rating perspective over the course of her four-year-old campaign. She certainly could find herself in the mix of the division come November, and looks ready to succeed against Grade 1 company.

VH: At her best, she certainly seems fast enough, based on her back-to-back victories in the Shawnee and Del 'Cap (Brisnet Speed ratings of 101-103), but I fear the division is so top-heavy (i.e. Clairiere, Nest) that she could find either or both a little too much. She was seemingly all out to defeat Classy Edition at Delaware, so she'd have form to find on any subsequent class rise.