It just a few minutes from now, Belmont Park will be hosting its annual Stars & Stripes Festival.  Dave Baker and I recorded our show earlier this morning for posting, but due to technical difficulties, we will not be able to bring that to you in audio.  But here is our outline of today’s five major stakes races at The Big Sandy:

G1 Belmont Park Derby:

Many here will sound the buggle for the return to form of Oscar Performance, who won the G3 Pennine Ridge in his last effort after starting the year with two dull performances in the G3 Transylvania and the American Turf at Churchill Downs.  Even trainer Brian Lynch has excuses, including a soft, yielding grass at Churchill Downs. But I do the juggle.  And, I go to the duo being shipped in from the Irish barn of trainer Aidan O’Brien for owner Mrs. John Magnier. Homesman and Whitecliffsofdover are both capable of winning this impressive field.  So, too, could either Good Samaritan or Yoshida, from the barn of Bill Mott.  The most interesting entry, though, may be the Preakness third place finisher Senior Investment, trained by Kenny McPeek.  I go with the Europeans and Yoshida.

G1 Belmont Oaks:

Chad Brown will have help, of course, but will try to saddle as many of his four entries in this $1 million stakes.  Sistercharlie, who is shipping in from Europe for owner Peter Brandt, is likely to get the most play after a game second in the G1 French Oaks.  She has three wins in five starts, and will be tough to handle n this spot.  Brown’s top U.S.-based fillies are New Money Honey, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner,  and Fifty Five, a closer with superior upside.  The fourth Brown-trained filly is Uni, who is by the renown European stallion Galileo.  She ships here after winning the 11/4-mile Irish Oaks Trial.  You can probably take these and box and be in good shape.  You have to root for Daddy’s Lil Darling, who has returned to the U.S. after her debacle at Royal Ascot.  She was shipped there to run on the grass, but ran off in the post parade and had to be scratched.  Now, she is back home and ready to try the grass here.  She has talent, but enough?

G2 Suburban Handicap:

Shaman’s Ghost appears to be the class here, after winning a pair of Graded stakes following his second place finish to the grand Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in January.  He captured the G1 Santa Anita Handicap and the G2 Pimlico Special in fine fashion and unless he encounters traffic issues, he is likely to be unstoppable of capturing his third major stakes in a  row today.  Matt King Coal looks to add speed to the event, but has never been this far, and Keen Ice has never been able to duplicate his feet and feat when beating American Pharaoh in the Travers a couple years ago.

G2 Belmont Sprint:

Mind Your Biscuits comes into this race off an impressive 3-length victory in Dubai, and appears to have the right stuff to win this 7-furlong sprint today.  He lost to Unified at Gulfstream Park to start the year, and that one is back to offer another try.  But this time he will have to carry his speed 7/8ths of a mile, and hold off what is sure to be the late closing kick of Mind Your Biscuits, trained by Chad Summers, who also owns part of the colt. Awesome Slew is another closer, but will find this company his toughest yet. This is a “Win & You’re In” stakes for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

G3 Dwyer Stakes:

Practical Joke, who hasn’t run since his impressive 5th place finish in the Kentucky Derby, will try to do what Kentucky Derby contenders Hence, Tapwrit, Irap, and Battle of Midway have already done — win their next out after the Run for the Roses.  Practical Joke is shortening back up to a mile, where he is undefeated, after trying to test the extended distances of the Triple Crown trail and the Derby.  He is 3-for-3 at one-turn miles — which he gets today — and should be another short priced favorite.  A Derby possible, before being declared from the race just a day before entries were taken, Battalion Runner — makes his first appearance since running a solid second to Irish War Cry in the Wood Memorial.  This one, trained by Todd Pletcher, may prove difficult for Practical Joke today, and is my “Play of the Day.” Giuseppe the Great, was a tout of mine in the Woody Stephens, and he did not disappoint trainer Nick Zito or me.  He ran second, at huge odds, and help light up the tote board and the cash register.  This is a tougher spot, but he is game.