Trainer Todd Pletcher will look to kick off the Belmont Fall Championship meet on a strong note entering a pair of talented runners in Marconi and You're to Blame for the inaugural running of the $300,000 Grand Prix American Jockey Club Invitational on Saturday at Belmont Park.
On a day featuring three stakes races, the Grand Prix American Jockey Club, at 1 1/2-miles on Big Sandy, will also be joined by the $750,000 Jockey Club Oaks Invitational and the $1 million Jockey Club Derby Invitational, a Breeders' Cup “Win and You're In” qualifier to the Breeders' Cup Turf Division.
NBC will present live coverage and analysis of the Jockey Club Oaks and Jockey Club Derby as part of a nationwide broadcast from 4:30-6 p.m. Eastern.
Marconi, a 4-year-old son of Tapit purchased for $2 million at the Keeneland September Yearling sales for owners Bridlewood Farm, Mrs. John Magnier, and Derrick Smith and Michael B. Tabor, broke his maiden in his second start in December of 2017 at Aqueduct Racetrack and didn't reach the winners circle again until winning the Skip Away this March at Gulfstream Park.
Going on to win the Flat Out and Grade 2 Brooklyn Invitational in his next two starts at Belmont Park, he then finished seventh in the Grade 2 Suburban before most recently finishing second in the Birdstone on August 1 at Saratoga Race Course.
Pletcher said Marconi, set to make his return to Belmont Park where he has two wins from three starts, is looking to improve off his last effort.
“He's seemed to have found his groove in these types of races,” said Pletcher. “He's training well and has run well at Belmont, so we'll give him a shot to rebound coming out of the Birdstone.”
You're to Blame, a 5-year old Distorted Humor horse, has one win from four starts this year. After kicking off his campaign with an optional claiming victory on April 14, he finished second by a neck in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special followed by a fifth-place finish in the Brooklyn Invitational and a sixth-place running in the Alydar on August 2 at Saratoga last out.
“I thought he encountered a difficult trip in the Alydar,” said Pletcher. “He's been training well since that race. He's also had success at these types of distances as well and seems to be coming in here in good form heading into the race.”
With Hall of rider John Velazquez aboard, You're to Blame will leave from the inside post. Marconi will depart from post 7 with Jose Lezcano up.
Conditioner Barclay Tagg also entered a pair of contenders with Highland Sky and Realm.
Highland Sky, a 6-year-old gelded son of Sky Mesa for owners B. Joyce Young, Jerrie Stewart, and Gerald and Joyce McManis, won the John's Call in his last start on August 21 at the Spa in a stakes moved off the turf. He was making his first start on the dirt in that race since finishing seventh in the 2017 Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Tagg said he is hoping for a repeat performance.
“He appreciated the slop the last time,” said Tagg. “I don't know if we'll get that weather again, but it was a good effort from him. It might be back a little quick, but he's been training well so we entered him in there and we'll see what the weather is like.”
Sired by Haynesfield, Realm has been unraced since finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Suburban. Owned by Tagg, Eric Dattner, and Harry Astarita, the 6-year-old gelding hasn't won a race since winning last year's edition of the Alydar but has finished third twice in the Skip Away and Brooklyn Invitational from four starts this year. He recorded a five-furlong breeze in 1:00.29 over the Spa main track in his final work for the Grand Prix.
“He's been training well up here,” said Tagg. “Unfortunately, we weren't able to find a race for him up here but he's run well at the longer distances, so getting back to Belmont with the wide, sweeping turns should be to his benefit.”
Highland Sky will leave from post 5 with Manny Franco aboard. Drawing post 4, Realm will be ridden by Junior Alvarado.
Rounding out the field is Carlino (Luis Saez, post 6) for trainer Mark Hennig and Courtlandt Farms and Rocketry (Javier Castellano, post 8) for conditioner Jimmy Jerkens and Centennial Farms.
In addition to the three graded stakes offered on Saturday at Belmont, NYRA will celebrate the 2019 Turf Triple Series by offering fans $3 general admission tickets, as well as “Triple Specials” that will include $3 Post Parade programs, hot dogs and concessions throughout Belmont Park.
The Grand Prix American Jockey Club Invitational is slated as Race 8 on Saturday. First post is 1 p.m.
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