Belmont Derby & Belmont Oaks

Belmont Park

Thoroughbreds are guided onto the track for the first race of the day before the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes horse race, Saturday, June 5, 2021, at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

  • The $1 Million Belmont Derby and $700,000 Belmont Oaks highlight Closing Weekend at Belmont Park
  • Top European trainer Aidan O’Brien has contenders to take both Grade 1 features on Saturday
  • Where is the betting value on Long Island Saturday?

With Saratoga opening on Thursday, Belmont Park wraps up their meet with a bang this weekend. The $1 Million Grade 1 Belmont Derby and $700,000 Grade 1 Belmont Oaks are a pair of high-end turf races that have attracted international fields on Saturday afternoon.

Renowned Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien has shipped two of his top horses, Bolshoi Ballet and Santa Barbara, to New York chasing big purses and prestige. So should you bet on his pair, or against them?

Let’s look at the entrants for each of races, and debate some of the contenders.

2021 Belmont Derby Odds

Horse Odds
Bolshoi Ballet +140
Hard Love +250
Du Jour +450
Sainthood +1000
Cellist +1200
Palazzi +1500
Tokyo Gold +1500
Safe Conduct +1500
Hidden Enemy +3000

Odds as of July 8

Originally named the Jamaica Handicap, and run in the fall on the dirt, the Belmont Derby is a mile-and-a-quarter test on the Inner Turf for three-year-olds. Post time is scheduled for 5:12 pm EST. It will be televised on Fox Sports 2.

Top Contenders

Bolshoi Ballet was a well-beaten seventh last time out when he went off as the favorite in one of Europe’s biggest races, the Epsom Derby. He won his prior two races this year and has never gone off at more than +500. He also has never been on a firm grass course. O’Brien won the Belmont Derby in 2016 with Deauville.

Originally trained by Bob Baffert, Du Jour has won three straight. Now being managed by Bill Mott, he is coming off an impressive win on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

Du Jour beat two of his rivals today in that race, Palazzi and Hidden Enemy.

Calumet Farm’s Cellist has two wins in four starts and won his stakes debut last time out at Churchill Downs on May 29.

Hard Love is a well-bred son of Kitten’s Joy who has three wins in four career starts. He’s two-for-two this year and has victories in both of his races at Belmont Park.

Sainthood was 11th in the Kentucky Derby, before rebounding to win a Grade 3 race at Belmont in late May. This is his turf debut.

Tokyo Gold is coming off a win in Italy. This is the US debut for the gray who has three wins in seven starts.

Belmont Derby Best Bet: Bolshoi Ballet

From a class standpoint, Bolshoi Ballet is a standout. While Du Jour has one quality win, Bolshoi Ballet has been facing tremendous fields consistently. The price is reasonable when you consider the connections and caliber of competition he has been facing.

2021 Breeders’ Cup Classic Odds Tracker

2021 Belmont Oaks Odds

Horse Odds
Santa Barbara +100
Plum Ali +350
Con Lima +500
Gam’s Mission +800
Higher Truth +1200
Spanish Loveaffair +1200
Cirona +1200
Nazuna +2000

Three-year-old fillies going a-mile-and-a-quarter on the Inner Turf compete in what was previously known as the Garden City Stakes. The Belmont Oaks is scheduled to start at 4:06 pm EST. Trainer Chad Brown has won the Oaks five times.

Top Contenders

Like Bolshoi Ballet in the Derby, Santa Barbara has been facing tremendous competition in Europe. She was second in a Group 1 race last time out and has faced the top horses across the pond in three straight tries. That said, she has just a maiden win in four starts. O’Brien won the Oaks with Athena in 2018.

Nine of 11 lifetime starts for Con Lima have come in Florida. She has won five of them, including a Grade 3 score in February. Her two starts outside of the Sunshine State were a runner-up effort at Saratoga last summer and a victory last month in a graded stakes at Belmont.

That was a pretty good win for Con Lima. The Todd Pletcher trained Texas-bred beat Jouster and today’s rival Plum Ali.

Conditioned by turf specialist Christophe Clement, Plum Ali won her first three starts and has finished fifth, third, and second in three races since against top competition.

And speaking of trainers who excel on sod, nobody is better than Brown. His entrant here is the lightly raced Higher Truth. After a subpar debut in March, she has won back-to-back races but faces much tougher competition in the Oaks.

Though it came in a second-place effort, Spanish Loveaffair ran well last time out in the Grade 3 Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs. She lost to Gam’s Mission, and both are viable in this event.

Spanish Loveaffair has two wins in seven starts facing tough foes. Gam’s Mission is three-for-four and had no difficulty stepping up in class last time out.

Cirona and Nazuma both travel from Europe for this one. Cirona has three career wins in seven starts and beat Group 3 foes in April, before running second against Group 1 challengers in May, and running poorly against the top caliber on June 20. Nazuma has one victory, and three seconds in six starts. She wasn’t great in her lone race in the US.

Belmont Oaks Best Bet: Cirona

This race feels pretty wide open and a price is possible. The fact Cirona’s connections ship her and run her just a few weeks after a 10th place effort are encouraging. She was 10th out of 17 and lost by less than four lengths in that affair, and has serious back class.

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Dave F.

Sports Writer