The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival runs from June 3 through Saturday, June 5, and is headlined by the 153rd running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1). The festival will encompass 17 total stakes, including eight Grade 1s on Belmont Stakes Day, capped by the “Test of the Champion” for 3-year-olds in the 1 1/2-mile final leg of the Triple Crown.
Group 2 UAE Derby-winner Rebel’s Romance, who is pointed to the Belmont Stakes, breezed on the fast main track in company with Grade 2, $300,000 True North hopeful Desert Peace.
The pair visited Big Sandy at 5:30 a.m. with Michael Metcalfe piloting a tracking Rebel’s Romance and Patrice Pot guiding the more forward Desert Peace. NYRA clockers captured the pair in 1:01.05 and out in 1:14.
“They went out early at 5:30 to try and get a good track. They worked six furlongs and the time was good. They’re getting better in their fitness,” said Appleby’s traveling assistant Sophie Chretien. “Rebel stayed at the back of Desert Peace, we didn’t want to ask him too hard. But he traveled much better than last time and went out seven-eighths.”
The breeze was a follow-up to the pair’s half-mile work in 50.54 on Wednesday on the Belmont main track.
“It’s normal for them,” said Chretien of the quick work back. “It was an easy first breeze and we need to carry on with the race in two weeks. They will go again Wednesday and after that we’ll see where we are.”
Summer Romance and Althiqa, who finished first and third last out in the nine-furlong Group 2 Balanchine on February 18 at Meydan, are targeting the Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Just a Game, a one-mile turf event for older fillies and mares on June 5.
The fillies breezed six furlongs in company on the firm inner turf with Summer Romance (Metcalfe) tracking outside of Althiqa (Pot) and finishing up very strong in 1:14.20.
“The fillies went to the grass for the first time today and had a good, strong piece of work,” said Chretien. “They had a good blow. They needed it. I liked the way they moved on the grass. It’s been a dry week and the grass is good. They will go again next Saturday.”
Hall of Fame Jockey Mike Smith will have the call aboard Rebel’s Romance, Althiqa and Desert Peace, while Luis Saez will ride Summer Romance.
Yuji Inaida’s France Go de Ina, trained by Hideyuki Mori, visited the Belmont Park main track for the first time on Friday to begin preparations for a start in the Belmont Stakes.
The 62-year-old Mori said the Kentucky-bred France Go de Ina was settling in well to his new surroundings after arriving at Belmont on Monday following his seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Preakness under Joel Rosario.
“It’s been 15 years since I’ve been here. I forgot how big it was,” said Mori with a laugh Saturday morning on the Belmont backstretch via translator Kate Hunter. “It looks like he has settled in well and is in very good condition. He looks like he has got all his weight back from after the race and all the travel.”
Bred by Kidder Betz, B & K Canetti and Jim Betz, the Japan-based France Go de Ina was purchased by the conditioner for $100,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale for owner Yuji Inaida.
In addition to trying to collect a $1 million bonus offered to the connections of any Japan-based horse who wins the Belmont Stakes, France Go de Ina will look to provide Mori with his first win in North America with his eighth starter.
Mori traveled Ski Captain to Churchill Downs in 1995 to finish 14th in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby in his first venture to North America. The well-respected conditioner has been represented at the last two Breeders’ Cup World Championships with Matera Sky (8th, 2019 Sprint), Full Flat (5th, 2019 Juvenile), and Jasper Prince (14th, 2020 Sprint).
France Go de Ina is a two-time winner at Hanshin Racecourse, including a maiden score on November 28 and an allowance coup on December 19. France Go de Ina entered the Preakness from a sixth in the UAE Derby following a poor start.
Mori said France Go de Ina should improve off the Preakness effort after extensive travel en route to Baltimore for his attempt at the 1 3/16-mile second jewel of the Triple Crown.
“He was good at the beginning but he seemed to get a little tired at the end,” said Mori of the Preakness effort. “He went from Dubai to Japan and then Japan to the Preakness and he probably needed the race to be more fit for the Belmont.”
Mori said France Go de Ina is bred to enjoy the stretch out in distance to 12 furlongs.
“He’s out of a Curlin mare, so we’re hopeful he’ll be able to stay the distance,” said Mori. “He will probably have a serious work on Tuesday or Wednesday before the race. He’ll canter in the mornings and continue to build stamina.”
Discussions on who will ride France Go de Ina in the Belmont Stakes are ongoing.