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Nations Pride and Classic Causeway, who have each won one leg of the Caesars Turf Triple, will square off once more in Saturday's Grade 3, $1 million Jockey Club Derby, to close out the lucrative series in the 12-furlong inner turf test for sophomores at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet.
Kentucky West Racing and Clarke M. Cooper's Kentucky homebred Classic Causeway struck first with a gate-to-wire 26-1 upset score under Julien Leparoux in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Caesars Belmont Derby on July 9 to win his turf debut by three-quarter lengths over Nations Pride.
Trained by Ken McPeek, the Giant's Causeway chestnut dug in gamely to stave off the late-running Nations Pride, who endured a troubled trip from post 10-of-12 under Frankie Dettori when slow from the gate and checked in upper stretch.
Race 10 at Belmont at the Big A
Saturday, September 17 - Post 5:45 PM
|1||Classic Causeway||2-1||Flavien Prat
|2||Wicked Fast||15-1||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
|3||Nations Pride (IRE)||1-1||Lanfranco Dettori
|4||The Grey Wizard (IRE)||8-1||Luis Saez
|6||Ardakan (GB)||4-1||Andrasch Starke
Godolphin's Irish homebred Nations Pride, by Teofilo, turned the tables on his familiar foe last out in the 1 3/16-mile Grade 1 Caesars Saratoga Derby Invitational on August 6, stalking the early foot of Classic Causeway before pouncing to a 1 3/4-length score with William Buick in the irons. Classic Causeway settled for third, a head back of Annapolis, who exited that event to capture the Grade 3 Saranac by a geared down 5 1/2-lengths on September 3 at the Spa.
McPeek said he is hopeful that Flavien Prat, who picks up the mount from post 1, can work out a comfortable trip while trying the Big A turf for the first time.
"I don't know that surface is going to be a big deal as much as how he rates and relaxes and how long he can stay. It's going to be an interesting run for him, it's a mile-and-a-half," McPeek said. "He's a unique horse in that the pace of the race is all the difference with him."
Classic Causeway, who was Grade 1-placed as a juvenile, began his 3-year-old season with a pair of starts at Tampa Bay Downs for his former trainer Brian Lynch, making the grade in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis in February and following with a 2 1/2-length score in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.
He set the pace when 11th in the Grade 1 Florida Derby in April at Gulfstream Park before an off-the-board effort in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby in May at Churchill Downs. Classic Causeway was then transferred to McPeek, finishing third in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby on June 25 at Thistledown before returning on two week's rest to win the Belmont Derby.
The Charlie Appleby-trained Nations Pride made his North American debut in the Belmont Derby from an eighth in the 12-furlong Group 1 Epsom Derby on June 4, five weeks after a seven-length romp over subsequent Derby runner-up Hoo Ya Mal in the Newmarket Stakes.
Nations Pride had a four-race win streak snapped at Epsom, with his three previous wins all coming on flat courses, including a 3 1/4-length score in the 10-furlong Jumeirah Derby at Meydan in Dubai.
Nations Pride, who has remained in New York in the care of travelling assistant Chris Connett, has breezed regularly over the Oklahoma training turf at Saratoga including a five-eighths breeze in 1:01.67 on September 11.
"The entire trip, the horse has gone from strength to strength. You can see that in his runs," Connett said. "Physically, he's matured into his frame. Earlier in the year he was a nice horse. He was well thought of to run in the Derby at Epsom, but from a physical standpoint he's just filled his frame a lot more and mentally as well. He really switches off now and is really taking it all in very well."
Appleby won this event last year with Yibir, who subsequently captured the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf in November at Del Mar en route to Champion Turf Male honors.
Dettori returns to the irons aboard Nations Pride from post 3.
Bennett Racing PYT's multiple group stakes winner Ardakan is one of four newcomers to the Caesars Turf Triple series.
Trained by Markus Klug, who will saddle his first starter in North America, the Reliable Man grey captured the nine-furlong Group 3 Premio Guido Berardelli in November at Capannelle and added the 11-furlong Group 2 Premio Derby Italiano to his ledger in May. He followed with a close eighth-place effort in the 12-furlong Group 1 Deutsches Derby in July at Hamburg, defeated 2 1/2-lengths by Sammarco, who exited that effort to win a Group 1 over older company at Munich.
Ardakan enters from a third-place finish versus older horses in the 12-furlong Group 1 Grosser Preis von Berlin in August at Hoppegarten, defeated just two lengths by the victorious Rebel's Romance.
Andrasch Starke, who captured the Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup in June with Loft, will pilot Ardakan from post 6.
Marc Keller's stakes-placed Kentucky homebred Daunt [post 5, Javier Castellano] will make his second attempt in graded company, having finished a close fifth in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Pennine Ridge in June at Belmont.
Trained by Robert Ribaudo, the dark bay Nyquist colt finished third in the Awad in November to close out his juvenile campaign.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Albert Frassetto's The Grey Wizard [post 4, John Velazquez] graduated in March traveling 10 furlongs over the Dundalk synthetic for his former conditioner Joseph O'Brien.
The Caravaggio bay launched his sophomore season in North America in the care of conditioner Graham Motion, finishing second in June at Laurel Park. He enters from a close fourth, defeated 2 1/4-lengths, in a 1 3/16-mile allowance event on August 25 at the Spa, closing from last-of-12 after a slow start to finish a nose ahead of Daunt.
Rounding out the field is Wicked Fast [post 2, Irad Ortiz, Jr.], who was claimed for $35,000 last out by owner-trainer Joe Sharp from a second-place finish in a 1 1/16-mile turf tilt.
He sports a record of 8-2-2-2 led by a maiden win for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott in November at Belmont, from which he was haltered for $50,000, and an allowance score for conditioner Jorge Abreu in June traveling nine furlongs over yielding Belmont green.
The Tourist gelding's dam, Wicked Charm, is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1-winning Champion English Channel.
The Caesars Jockey Club Derby is slated as Race 10 on Saturday's 11-race card, which also offers the Grade 3 Jockey Club Oaks in Race 7. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
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