07/06/2017 10:10AM

Weekend Warrior for Saturday, July 8: Picks for Belmont Derby, Parx Dash, Arlington Handicap


NEW YORK – Saturday is a loaded day of stakes racing. Among the interesting events all over the country are the Stars and Stripes Racing Festival at Belmont Park, featuring five graded stakes worth $3.7 million in total, led by the Grade 1, $1.2 million Belmont Derby Invitational; the Grade 3, $300,000 Delaware Oaks card at Delaware Park that includes three other stakes; and the Ride to the Million program at Arlington, with four graded stakes that whet the appetite for next month’s Arlington Million card.

Belmont Derby Invitational

While Saturday’s Belmont Oaks has a high-class French invader in Sistercharlie, the European contingent in this Belmont Derby doesn’t appear to be as strong as in recent years, or even as strong as it threatened to be a week ago when the Group 2 stakes winner War Decree was listed as a possible starter. But even if the European horses don’t figure in the outcome of this Belmont Derby, two of the three could have a significant impact on the race.

Whitecliffsofdover, one of two in this race from the powerful Aidan O’Brien barn (Homesman is the other) has the look of a pacesetter for his stablemate. Whitecliffsofdover hasn’t raced beyond seven furlongs this year, went wire to wire in winning his 3-year-old debut, and now stretches out to 10 furlongs, a distance at which Homesman prevailed in a Group 3 stakes two starts back.

The other European representative is Called To The Bar, who beat a short field in a Group 3 stakes at Saint-Cloud most recently and did so after making all the running.

I suspect that the Belmont Derby’s pace will be honest, which means it will be entirely different from last month’s Pennine Ridge Stakes, the local prep for this event. The Pennine Ridge drew a strong field, but the race was essentially over when Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Oscar Performance was allowed an uncontested early lead.

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Oscar Performance crawled up front – his interior fractions were a pokey 49.92 seconds and 1:14.74 – and that left him with enough in reserve through the stretch run to resist late charges from Good Samaritan and Ticonderoga. Under the circumstances, Good Samaritan and Ticonderoga did very well to rally and lose by only 1 1/2 lengths, and both are prime win candidates Saturday. But I prefer Ticonderoga.

Ticonderoga had a slightly tougher trip than Good Samaritan in the Pennine Ridge. He was always behind him and then had to steady and angle out for racing room in midstretch, costing him momentum. Yet Ticonderoga still finished fast, just missed catching Good Samaritan for the place, and then galloped out in front.

Another reason why I like Ticonderoga is the distance. The Pennine Ridge was his first start going as far as nine furlongs, and he now stretches out another furlong. I think the farther Ticonderoga goes, the better because he is out of Keertana, who won multiple graded stakes at 11 and 12 furlongs.

Parx Dash

Pure Sensation is looking to repeat in this race and enters off a fourth in the Jaipur, in which Disco Partner allegedly threw six furlongs in 1:05.67 at him. But Pure Sensation will have to deal with a lot of other speed and pace types here, including Richard’s Boy, who is razor-sharp despite doing an enormous amount of long-distance traveling this year, and I want someone who can close.

I’m going back to my old pet Amelia’s Wild Ride, whose series of fine performances in 2015 and early 2016 would look even better if he wasn’t compromised by some bad racing luck. Amelia’s Wild Ride recently returned from a 14-month absence with a creditable third to Richard’s Boy in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint after shuffling himself back on the inside around the far turn. He certainly can improve on that, and his draw more to the outside is much better for a closer like him.

Arlington Handicap

There’s nothing wrong here with Kasaqui, who comes off a big score in the Wise Dan Stakes, but I like Taghleeb as a higher-priced alternative.

Forget Taghleeb’s outing last time in the Belmont Gold Cup, a race dominated by European shippers. His second to the freakish Zhukova in the Man o’ War two starts back and his win in the W.L. McKnight four back put him right in the mix here.