Things really start to heat-up for horse racing fans and bettors alike all across the country in anticipation of several major graded stakes races on tap for this 4th of July Holiday. The popularity of the sport is at an all-time high making it a perfect time to get in on all the action.
This is especially true at Belmont Park in New York and Monmouth Park in New Jersey with a pair of Grade 1 stakes races for three-year olds and up. There a full card of racing at Belmont this Saturday with six graded stakes races, while Monmouth’s race card on Sunday features a pair of graded stakes events. The following is a closer look at some of the top contenders for the two biggest races on this holiday weekend’s betting card.
Belmont Derby Invitational- Belmont Park
The Belmont Derby is a Grade 1 stakes race for three-year old thoroughbreds run on turf over a distance of 1 ¼ miles. It has one of the biggest prizes purses of the year at $1.25 million as a qualifier for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The early field for Saturday’s race is starting to take shape with six contenders listed as probable. One of the horses on my watch list is Force the Pass. Trained by Alan Goldberg, this three-year old colt is coming off a first-place run in the Grade 3 Penn Mile at Penn National on May 30. This followed a second-place finish earlier that month at Pimlico Race Course in the James W. Murphy Stakes. As a three-year old, Force the Pass has finished either first or second in all five races he has run.
The most notable contender listed as probable for this Saturday’s Belmont Derby is Bolo. Trained by Carla Gaines, this colt qualified for this year’s Kentucky Derby with a third-place finish in both the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park during the Triple Crown prep race season. He went on to finish 12th at Churchill Downs in a crowded field of 18. Since that run in the Kentucky Derby, he won a recent allowance race at Santa Anita.
A few of the other horses expected to run this Saturday are a pair of Chad Brown-trained entries in Startup Nation and Takeover Target along with Father Christmas and Divisidero.
United Nations Stakes- Monmouth Park
This Sunday afternoon at Monmouth Park is the running of this year’s United Nation Stakes, which is a Grade 1 stakes race for three-year old thoroughbreds and up run on dirt over a distance of 1 3/8 miles. The total prize purse for this race is $500,000.
This year’s United Nations Stakes is shaping-up to be a quality field led by one of my favorites Middleburg. This five-year old thoroughbred is a seasoned veteran that continues to get better with age. Trained by Christophe Clement, he comes into this race in top form after finishing in the money in his last 12 races dating all the way back to February of 2014. In his two latest runs, Middleburg took third place in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy Stakes at Belmont on May 2. He went on to place second in the Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes in early June.
Another contender that I like for Sunday’s race is Twilight Eclipse. Trained by Thomas Albertrani, this six-year old gelding is another racing veteran that has been around the block a time or two. The main reason that he caught my eye for this year’s United Nations Stakes was a stunning first-place finish in this year’s Grade 1 Man O’ War Stakes at Belmont Park on May 9. He did not look nearly as good in his seventh-place run in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap at Belmont on June 6, so he could still be a bit of a reach to finish in the money against a strong field this Sunday.
Two other horses that could figure into the mix this Sunday are Slumber and Big Blue Kitten. Slumber comes in fresh-off his victory in the Manhattan Handicap and Big Blue Kitten finished second in that race after winning the Fort Marcy Stakes in early May; so keep this in mind when placing your sports picks.