Five Key Takeaways From Belmont Park’s Closing Weekend

Five Key Takeaways From Belmont Park’s Closing Weekend

Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from the Stars and Stripes Racing Festival on Saturday at Belmont Park and other major developments during the weekend:

THINKING BIG: Trainer Ken McPeek is never afraid to swing for the fences, and he did that when he asked multiple graded stakes winner Classic Causeway to make his turf debut in the $1 million Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes. He did so against an international cast with only two weeks between starts. McPeek’s risk-taking nature was rewarded when the son of Giant’s Causeway rolled gate to wire to win by three-quarters of a length for jockey Julien Leparoux as an improbable 26.75-1 longshot. “He is amazing,” co-owner Patrick O’Keefe said of McPeek. “To me, he’s a life send. I have someone who really knows the breeding and knows where to put them.”

LOST AT START?: European imports often struggle to make a sharp break from the starting gate in their first race in the United States. That was the case with Belmont Derby runner-up Nations Pride, leading jockey Frankie Dettori to suggest that made all the difference. “He got upset in the gates. I was the last one out and I had to play catch up then and go through traffic,” Dettori said. “The winner had a trouble-free run. If he jumped, it could have been a different story. In America, if you give up too many lengths away from the start, you’re going to pay at the end.”

BREAKING THROUGH: Klaravich Stables’ McKulick had been knocking on the door to a graded-stakes victory, finishing third in the Miss Grillo Stakes at Belmont Park to close her juvenile season in addition to runner-up efforts in the Edgewood Stakes Presented by Forcht Bank and Regret Stakes this year at Churchill Downs. She broke through at the ideal time, capturing the $700,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes by 1 ¾ lengths. According to trainer Chad Brown, the Oaks distance was perfect for the British-bred McKulick. “She was really born to run a mile and a quarter,” he said. “We were patiently waiting for a long time to get her to this distance.” The filly is named after Brown’s former bookkeeper, the late Mary McKulick.

BACK-TO-BACK: Dynamic One sports consecutive victories for the first time in his 12-race career after adding Saturday’s $400,000 Suburban Stakes to his June 4 decision in the Blame Stakes at Churchill Downs. It did not come easily as he narrowly held off surging First Captain by a nose in the 136th edition of the Suburban. “It seems like he just keeps getting a little better and he’s starting to figure things out,” trainer Todd Pletcher said of the 4-year-old Union Rags colt. He’s a horse that we’ve always had high hopes for.”

SARATOGA DEBUT: Stonestreet Stables’ Twilight Gleaming, winner of last November’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, will be among the headliners during opening week at Saratoga Race Course when she competes in the $150,000 Coronation Cup on Friday. The Wesley Ward trainee owns four wins and has never finished worse than second in seven career starts. She appears to be primed for a big effort for jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., after breezing five furlongs in a bullet 59.44 seconds over Saratoga’s Oklahoma turf course on July 4, and then posting a maintenance four-furlong work in 51.01 the morning of July 10. “She looks great in training and we’re thrilled to get her back out there,” Ward said.