by Brian Bohl/NYRA | 08.01.2019 | 6:00pm
Henley’s Joy captured the opening leg of the New York Racing Association’s newly implemented Turf Triple series with a career-best effort in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby last out and will look to add the second jewel in Sunday’s first running of the $1 million Saratoga Derby at Saratoga Race Course.
The Turf Trinity for 3-year-old males kicked off last month when Henley’s Joy, off at 20-1, upset the 14-horse field in the $1 million Belmont Derby on July 6 at 1 1/4 miles on the Belmont Park grass. The Mike Maker trainee earned a career-best 97 Beyer Speed Figure for that effort and will now look to go 2-for-2 in the series entering his Saratoga debut, contested at 1 3/16 miles on the Mellon turf course.
The Turf Triple will conclude with the $1 million Jockey Club Derby Invitational at 1 1/2 miles on September 7 at Belmont. The Saratoga Derby’s 11-horse field will feature each of the Belmont Derby’s top-5 finishers.
Henley’s Joy notched his first graded stakes win last out. Since finishing 13th in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, the Kitten’s Joy colt has two wins and two second-place finishes in seven starts, all against stakes company, including a victory in the one-mile Pulpit in December at Gulfstream Park and a second-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Transylvania in April at Keeneland.
“He’s doing good,” Maker said. “I think maybe the distance helped him improve. He had some pretty rough trips. Last time, he finally got a clean trip and got to prove it.”
Running at a mile and a quarter for the first time, jockey Jose Lezcano kept Henley’s Joy just off the speed tracking inside before gaining command in the stretch and outkicking fellow Saratoga Derby contender Social Paranoia for the win, returning $43.60 on a $2 win bet. Lezcano will have the return call on Sunday, breaking from the rail.
“He’s a very professional horse,” Maker said. “You can take him anywhere. He’s very mature.”
Henley’s Joy stablemate Kadar will be taking a step up in class after running third in his North American debut against optional claimers on July 18 at Saratoga. The lightly raced son of Scat Daddy ran just twice in Great Britain before arriving to the U.S. and placed in Maker’s care.
Owned by Phoenix Thoroughbred III, Kadar ran at 1 1/16 miles in his Saratoga bow, and Maker said stretching out, and gaining familiarity with his surroundings, was beneficial.
“He got away bad and had a wide trip,” Maker said. “I think the added distance will move him forward as well. I think his last race, being his first start in this country, that was a big factor.”
Jockey Jose Ortiz picked up the mount and will leave from post 6.
A pair of Irish-bred imports for trainer Aidan O’Brien will look to win on North American soil for the first time.
Cape of Good Hope, coming off a 10th-place in the Group 3 Hampton Court in June at Royal Ascot, ran eighth in the Belmont Derby in his first start in the country. A full brother to 2016 Breeders’ Cup Turf-winner Highland Reel, Cape of Good Hope is sired by Galileo.
“He [Highland Reel] was a very good horse and the dam is a very good dam as well,” said O’Brien assistant T.J. Comerford. “He obviously has to go a long way to be as good as Highland Reel, but he’s had a good start. He won a Derby trial at Epsom and he was running well into the turn in his last race at Belmont.”
Julien Leparoux drew the assignment for the first time, drawing post 7.
Mohawk captured the Group 3 Meld in Leopardstown in Ireland last out on July 18, with jockey Donnacha O’Brien piloting him to the two-length win in the 1 1/8-mile route.
“He won it well. Just sat close and came into the turn and Donnacha went in on him and he went well,” Comerford said. “It’s probably a big step up here, but he’s entitled to have a go.”
The Galileo colt raced four times in Group 1 stakes in Ireland, Great Britain and France, with his best finish a fourth-place effort in the Group 1 Goffs Vincent O’Brien National in September at Curragh.
Acclaimed international jockey Wayne Lordan will ride from post 10.
Trainer Chad Brown will send out his own Irish-bred colt in Rockemperor, who finished third in the Belmont Derby. Owned by Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, Wonder Stables, Michael Kisber and Bethlehem Stables, Rockemeperor rallied from last of 14 in the Belmont Derby to earn blacktype in his first North American start after making his first seven starts in France.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who was aboard for the Turf Triple opening leg last month, will have the returning engagement from post 4.
Klaravich Stables’ Digital Age also made a strong account in the Belmont Derby, going from 12th at the half-mile mark to fourth with a late kick. Digital Age started his career 3-for-3, winning his debut on January 19 at Tampa Bay Downs before besting Forever Mo by a head in the Columbia on March 9 at Tampa. Stepping up to graded stakes company, he edged A Thread of Blue, who he will rematch in the Saratoga Derby, by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 2 American Turf on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
With Irad Ortiz, Jr. up, Digital Age will depart from post 8.
Leonard Green’s graded-stakes winner A Thread of Blue will be stretching out in distance after running fourth in the Grade 2 Penn Mile on June 1 at Penn National.
The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee has two wins and a runner-up effort in four starts as a sophomore, starting the campaign with a 3 ½-length win in the Dania Beach in February at Gulfstream at one mile before winning at 1 1/16 miles over the same track in the Grade 3 Palm Beach on March 2.
The son of Hard Spun ran second in the Grade 2 American Turf before the Penn Mile. Since his last start, A Thread of Blue has trained at Belmont and then shipped to Saratoga last month, recording three official workouts leading into the weekend.
“He’s doing very well. It’s a tough race, but we think he deserves a chance,” McLaughlin said. “We think with the tight turns on the turf, it should help. It’s also better staying at home, so we don’t have to ship.”
Luis Saez has the assignment from post 3.
The Elkstone Group’s Social Paranoia garnered a personal-best 96 Beyer for his runner-up finish in the Belmont Derby. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Social Paranoia has never been off the board in nine starts [1-4-4 record] but is looking for his first stakes win after earning black type in all four of his graded stakes appearances. Manny Franco, aboard for the Belmont Derby, will ride again from post 2.
“He’s knocking on the door and it’d be great to win a race like that,” Pletcher said. “I think he’s in good form and ran well here last year. Hopefully, he keeps moving forward.”
Rounding out the field is Seismic Wave, fifth in the Belmont Derby, for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott [post 9, Joel Rosario]; Eons, winner of the Grade 3 Kent last out on July 6 at Del Mar, for trainer Arnaud Delacour [post 5, Trever McCarthy] and Flying Scotsman, winner of the Grade 3 Cecil B. DeMille in November at Del Mar and conditioned by Jack Sisterson [post 11, Ricardo Santana, Jr.].
Carded as Race 9 with a 5:48 p.m. Eastern post time, the Saratoga Derby is one of four stakes on the 11-race card that also includes the rescheduled $100,000 John Morrissey, the Grade 2, $200,000 Adirondack for 2-year-old fillies and the Grade 3, $200,000 Fasig-Tipton Waya for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up. First post time is 1 p.m.