Pennine Ridge Path to Belmont Derby

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5:05 pm EDT

On Monday, the Pennine Ridge Stakes will foreshadow the $1.25 million Belmont Derby set for July 5.

Two automatic invitations to the  Belmont Derby Invitational will go to the top two finishers on Monday. The Belmont Derby is 1 1/4 mile on turf.

The 8-5 morning-line favorite for the Pennine Ridge is Mr Speaker, who is coming off a four-length win in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes on the now-removed Polytrack at Keeneland Polytrack on April 19.

Mr Speaker is 2-1-1 from five starts on the grass, including a 2 3/4-length win in the Dania Beach in December and a troubled second in the Palm Beach in March. Both starts were at Gulfstream Park. He was seventh in the Holy Bull on the dirt in January.

"We think he'll really like this turf course here with the wider turns," said McGaughey. "I don't think soft turf will help him, but, hopefully, this weather will straighten out and we won't have soft turf. I know it probably will have a little give in it, but he has done awfully well, and his breezes here have been terrific. I'm not going to second guess anything and I'm just going to look forward to running him."

Jose Lezcano will ride Mr Speaker from post 4.

Gala Award, the 9-5 second choice on the morning line, will attempt to regain the winning thread after finishing sixth in the Toyota Blue Grass on April 12. Previously, he broke his maiden by three-quarters of a length in January at Gulfstream before holding off Mr Speaker by a half-length in the Palm Beach.

Todd Pletcher trains Gala Award, who will leave from post 2 with John Velazquez aboard.

An international flavor will be present in the Belmont Derby.

Flamboyant, a two-time winner in France, has made one start in North America, surging late to take the Santa Anita's La Puente by a neck on April 19. Last fall, he was third in a conditions race at Le Bouscat in October. Second in that race was Gailo Chop, who has developed into a two-time Group 3 winner in France and is also currently targeting the Belmont Derby.
Joel Rosario will ride Flamboyant for the first time on Monday. Flamboyant, trained by Patrick Gallagher, drew post 1.

The field also includes Can'thelpbelieving (8-1), fifth in the Palm Beach and second an entry-level allowance on April 24 at Keeneland, and Smooth Daddy (12-1), runner-up in an entry-level optional claimer on April 26 at Gulfstream.

Edited NYRA release with additional content by Dick Downey