They might want to consider renaming it Upson Downs.
I refer to Arizona Downs, the new racetrack in Prescott Valley, Arizona, which announced this week it will resume its inaugural season July 20 after abruptly canceling the remainder of its season two weeks ago amid a dispute with a simulcasting provider.
A news release from the track, one of the closest live racing venues to Las Vegas, credited the decision to resume racing to an unidentified new investment group that “loves horse racing, and understands how important a year-round circuit is for the industry,” according to Arizona Downs co-owner Tom Auther. “They will be incredible business partners.”
The fresh infusion of cash means the track, revived this year from the bones of the former Yavapai Downs, can pay out purses even as the simulcast dispute drags on and continue to expand its off-track betting network, which currently consists of outlets in Phoenix, Flagstaff, Lake Havasu and Pinetop-Lakeside.
At the risk of being accused of burying the lead, I should mention that the track will celebrate the resumption of live racing with $1 hot dogs and $3 beers on both July 20 and 21. If that wasn’t enough to induce you to make the four-hour drive from Las Vegas, the track also is staging wiener dog races July 20.
Stars & Stripes Racing Festival
Those craving a big dollop of classy racing will not need to leave home on Saturday, as NBC will broadcast five graded stakes races starting at 1 p.m. PT from Belmont Park’s Stars & Stripes Racing Festival.
The menu includes an expected 14-horse field of intriguing 3-year-olds for the 70th running of the $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational, a Grade 1 run at 1¼ miles on the turf. Among those expected to face the starter are Triple Crown also-rans Spinoff, Master Fencer and Plus Que Parfait as well as a quartet from trainer Chad Brown’s shedrow and two European invaders sent over by the Irish assassin Aidan O’Brien.
The race begins the New York Racing Association’s Turf Trinity series, which includes the Saratoga Derby in August and concludes with the Jockey Club Derby back at Belmont in September.
Other races on the program are the $700,000 Suburban (Grade 2) for older horses going 1¼ miles, featuring the versatile Catholic Boy; the $250,000 Dwyer (Grade 3), featuring the comeback of Code of Honor; the $750,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational (Grade 1), which drew former Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf rivals Newspaperofrecord and Concrete Rose; and the $300,000 John A. Nerud Stakes (Grade 2), a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifying race for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint headlined by the Dale Romans-trained Promises Fulfilled.
New handicapping contest
The #RJhorseracing crowd ’cappers are taking a rare week off in order to reload for our next three-month handicapping contest starting next week.
We’d love to have you join us each week as we tackle two of the toughest handicapping puzzles we can find each week. To get in on the action, simply drop me an email or follow me on Twitter and let me know you’d like to be added to the list. If you do you’ll receive free past performances (courtesy of Equibase) for all featured races and be entered to compete for a semi-fabulous prize to be announced shortly.
And speaking of prizes, a loud huzzah goes out to Bill Dentinger, who triumphed in the just-concluded #RJhorseracing Spring Donnybrook to walk away with the grand prize – an autographed copy of Barry Meadow’s excellent new book “The Skeptical Handicapper.” Well done, Bill!
Ellis Starr’s Belmont Derby Invitational analysis
Cape of Good Hope (IRE) can give world class trainer Aiden O’Brien his second win in this race. O’Brien shipped Deauville to win the 2016 edition of the Belmont Derby Invitational and saddled runner-up Adelaide in 2014. Cape of Good Hope (IRE) is one of only two horses in the field to have won at this 1 1/4-mile turf trip, the win coming in the Blue Riband Trial Stakes in April. Sent to post at odds of 16/1 in the Prix du Jockey Club in June next out, the colt had the benefit of stablemate Blenheim Palace (IRE) to set the early pace and rallied from near the back to finish fourth in the 15 horse field. That effort earned him a 116 Equibase Speed Figure, the top figure earned by any horse in this field. Dropped in class for the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot last month, Cape of Good Hope (IRE) apparently didn’t like the soft turf and finished 10th. Not only is Cape of Good Hope (IRE) proven at the distance and in the hands of an excellent trainer, he is a full brother to champion Highland Reel, who won over $10 million, including the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and a full brother to Idaho, winner of over $1.6 million. As such, Cape of Good Hope (IRE) is my top choice to win this year’s Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes.
Rockemperor (IRE), one of four trained by Chad Brown, showed he fit at the top level when second, beaten a neck, in the Prix la Force Stakes in April. That effort earned a 108 speed figure. Prior to that, Rockemperor (IRE) won an allowance race at 1 1/4 miles on an all-weather surface. Although sixth in the Prix du Jockey Club in his most recent race, Rockemperor (IRE) improved to a career-best 111 figure. Brown is currently second among North American trainers in earnings, with $12.8 million in purses this year. Of that, $9.8 million has been earned by his starters on turf, where he excels. Brown has won 25 percent of the time with foreign shippers in their first U.S. starts over the last five years, with 53 percent of those finishing in the top three. With Rockemperor (IRE) having shown he belongs in top company and can handle the 10 furlong trip, I think he could be quite competitive in this race.
Seismic Wave and Demarchelier (GB) finished second and first, respectively, in last month’s Pennine Ridge Stakes and could be right there in the Belmont Derby with similar efforts. Seismic Wave has done little wrong in six races, winning two and finishing second or third in three of the other four. In the American Turf Stakes on Derby day, Seismic Wave was eight paths wide turning for home and flew from 10th to fourth but was too late to catch winner Digital Age. That effort earned a career-best 100 figure and although he regressed to a 94 figure effort in the Pennine Ridge, the fact that race came over this inner turf course at Belmont may help him to run even better. Demarchelier (GB) is a perfect three-for-three in his career to date. Jockey Javier Castellano has been in the saddle for all three and the colt continues to improve with each effort. As such, I expect a good showing in the Belmont Derby but it is likely he will have to have another career-best effort to be competitive in this very deep and talented field.
I can’t completely ignore Blenheim Palace (IRE) although I suspect the reason he was entered was to insure a good early pace for his stablemate Cape of Good Hope (IRE) as was the case in the Prix du Jockey Club. Blenheim Palace (IRE) is the only other horse, besides his stablemate, to have won at this 10 furlong turf trip. He earned that win in April in a field of 16. Although he faded to 14th after setting the pace in the Jockey Club, Blenheim Palace (IRE) showed he can run well on his own when second thereafter in the Intern Stakes just one week ago. Blinkers are added for the Belmont Derby, strongly suggesting the tactic will be to go to the front and hold it for as long as he can. Noting that was the same tactic used by trainer O’Brien’s Hunting Horn in the Man o’ War Stakes here at Belmont last month, and that one nearly pulled off the upset before fading to fourth very late in the race, there is reason to think Blenheim Palace (IRE) could get brave on the lead and be in the hunt to the wire in this race.
The rest of the Belmont Derby field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures in a representative race: Digital Age (IRE) (102), English Bee (96), Henley’s Joy (97), He’s No Lemon (102), Master Fencer (JPN) (106), Moon Colony (99), Plus Que Parfait (112), Social Paranoia (101), Spinoff (101) and Standard Deviation (96).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.