John Oxley's Moon Colony will look to handle a stretch out in distance in the 1 ¼-mile Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational on Saturday as part of the Stars & Stripes Racing Festival at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
Moon Colony has never run further than 1 1/16 miles in seven previous career starts. But trainer Mark Casse said the Uncle Mo colt has shown signs he can be competitive in facing a full 14-horse field featuring top sophomores domestically and internationally in the opening leg of the New York Racing Association's newly implemented Turf Triple series, offering $5.25 million in purse money for sophomores over three legs at Belmont and Saratoga Race Course.
Moon Colony drew the rail with jockey Julien Leparoux in the irons. Listed at 12-1 on the morning line, he will be making his first start at Belmont Park when he races on the inner turf course.
“I loved the draw,” Casse said. “It's an extremely tough race and lot of it can be decided with the trip. I think the key for him is to save some ground and hopefully shut off early and relax.”
Moon Colony is coming off a 1 ¼-length win over Casa Creed in the Grade 2 Penn Mile on June 1 at Penn National, earning a career-best 90 Beyer Speed Figure. In his juvenile campaign, he posted two wins in five starts, breaking his maiden at third asking at 1 1/16 miles on October 5 at Keeneland and ended his year with a two-length score at one mile against optional claimers on November 29 at Fair Grounds.
“The mile and a quarter is obviously a question,” Casse said. “From an ability-standpoint, he's right there with everybody. It's just a question of him shutting off early and getting the mile and a quarter. With the distance, either they can or they can't. His pedigree maybe suggests it's a bit far for him, but I've seen crazier things happen, and you don't know until you try. There's a lot of money to entice us to figure it out.”
Purchased for $400,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September Sale, Moon Colony will be looking for back-to-back stakes victories, having breezed four times at Belmont since May.
“He's coming into the race in good order, and that's all you can ask for,” Casse said. “I don't know if there's many in there who have tried the mile and a quarter. We all have the same questions.”
Casse also gave a brief update on Grade 1 Preakness winner War of Will, who has not raced since finishing ninth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 8.
He recorded his first breeze since the Belmont on Monday, July 1, going a half mile in 49.40 seconds at Keeneland.
“He's doing wonderful. If all continues to go well, we'll get him a breeze at Churchill and start thinking about Saratoga.”
Casse said that War of Will is “50-50” for the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy on July 27 at Saratoga.
One of five stakes as part of the Stars & Stripes Racing Festival, the Belmont Derby will be broadcast live nationwide on NBC. It also starts the Turf Trinity for 3-year-old males and follows with the Grade 1, $1 million Saratoga Derby on August 4 at the Spa and concludes with the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Derby on September 7 at Belmont.
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