(Sole Volante / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

From the NYRA Media Team:

Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Andie Biancone’s Sole Volante will be coming off the shortest turnaround of any of the 10 contenders in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, but his connections said having a prep race before starting the Triple Crown series provided a much-needed boost.

The ultra-consistent Sole Volante stalked the early speed and used his late-closing turn-of-foot to post a three-quarters of a length victory against allowance company at one mile on June 10 at Gulfstream Park. The victory netted the Karakontie gelding a 95 Beyer Speed Figure – exceeding 90 for a fourth consecutive race – and marked his first race in three months since running second to King Guillermo in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 7.

The Patrick Biancone trainee shipped to Belmont, where he alertly schooled in the paddock Wednesday mere hours before he drew post 2 and was listed as the 9-2 morning-line second choice behind 6-5 favorite Tiz the Law.

“He just came out of that allowance race so well and we did an open gallop with him on Monday,” said Andie Biancone, assistant trainer for her father in addition to being Sole Volante’s co-owner. “We really waited for him to do the talking. He’s behavior is great, and he came out of it so fresh and so happy and so well, we couldn’t not go to this race.”

Sole Volante is 4-1-1 in six career starts. He began his career 2-for-2 on turf, including a win in the Pulpit in November at Gulfstream Park to cap his juvenile year. The elder Biancone moved him to dirt to commence his sophomore campaign and never looked back, with Sole Volante running third in the one-mile Mucho Macho Man before registering a 2 ½-length score in the Grade 3  Sam F. Davis in February at Tampa Bay Downs, earning a personal-best 96 Beyer.

His come-from-behind running style was on full display in the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby, where he was 11th at the half-mile mark before rallying second. With restrictions in place nation-wide to mitigate risk and combat the spread of COVID-19, Sole Volante continued to train in Palm Meadows, Florida awaiting his next start.

Andie Biancone said that next spot finally came last week. That victory at Gulfstream Park will now be used as a springboard to the 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes.

“We wanted to run him before the Belmont,” Andie Biancone said. “To go almost 100 days without a race, they’re itching for it. They’re athletes. Mentally, he wanted to do more. Once he got that race him, it was like he said, ‘I’m all right, everything is OK.’ They love to run. Mentally and physically, he’s just perfect right now. We couldn’t be happier.

“I think the rest did him well at the end of the day,” she added. “He’s put on a lot of weight and grown. For any young horse, I think some time off can do them well. This situation hasn’t been done before, but he came out of it well.”

This year’s Belmont Stakes will be held at a one-turn 1 1/8 miles, marking the first time since 1925 the American Classic will not be held at its traditional 1 ½ miles. After posting wins at one mile and 1 1/16 miles, Biancone said the Kentucky-bred’s late-closing speed could set up well down the stretch on Big Sandy.

“I think he’s a closer. With a lot of speed in the race, hopefully he can sit back comfortably and pick his route from there,” she said. “Also, this is the best he’s ever been right now, both fitness-wise and mentally.”

After making all six of his starts in Florida, Patrick Biancone said his charge shipped in well to New York and was getting comfortable in New York.

“So far, so good,” Patrick Biancone said. “He’s very talented. He’s been very good for us and trains his best all the time. We’ll see how good he is Saturday. No question, Tiz the Law is the horse to beat, but he totally [deserves] this opportunity.”

Andie Biancone echoed that sentiment after riding Sole Volante under the sunshine in the Belmont paddock Wednesday.

“He was alert but not nervous,” she said. “I think that’s something good to look for.”

Andie Biancone, a fourth-generation horsewoman, is the youngest of Biancone’s four children. For her 22nd birthday last April, Patrick Biancone bought an interesting gift, purchasing the 2-year-old Sole Volante for $20,000. She now shares ownership with Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, headed by Dean and Patti Reeves, who campaigned Mucho Macho Man, who ran third in the 2011 Kentucky Derby and was the stable’s only previous Belmont Stakes entrant, finishing seventh that year.

“When I first heard that Dean Reeves wanted to buy a part of Sole Volante, I was star-struck,” she said. “I was such a huge fan of Mucho Macho Man growing up. They are great ambassadors of the sport. To be partners with them is great. They are great people and great horsemen. His best interests is always with the horse. I admire that. They are fun to work with.”

If there’s one thing New Yorkers appreciate, it’s authentic Italian, and Andie Volante said in that spirit, the pronunciation of Sole Volante’s name was authenticated by a stellar source: jockey Luca Panici, who was born in Milan and began his racing career in Italy before expanding into North America, where he’s won more than 600 races multiple graded stakes, including the Sam F. Davis.

Sole Volante, Italian for “Flying Sun,” is a nod to his sire’s name, with Karakontie Mohawk for “Flying Sun.”

As the exclusive broadcast partner of the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown, NBC Sports will present live coverage from Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes Day beginning at 2:45 p.m. Eastern.

Belmont Stakes Day June 20 will feature six graded races including four Grade 1 events led by the historic Belmont Stakes, which will offer 150-60-30-15 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top-four finishers.

Rounding out the Grade 1 entertainment on Belmont Stakes Day are the $300,000 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies going one mile; the $250,000 Woody Stephens presented by Claiborne Farm, a seven-furlong sprint over Big Sandy for 3-year-olds; and the $250,000 Jaipur, presented by America’s Best Racing, for 3-year-olds and up going six furlongs on turf, which offers a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. A pair of one-mile turf races for sophomores, previously contested at nine furlongs, completes a stakes-laden card with the Grade 2, $150,000 Pennine Ridge and the Grade 3, $150,000 Wonder Again for fillies.

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O’Neill confident in maturing Fore Left

Trainer Doug O’Neill has been highly impressed with the way Fore Left has been training, which is why he decided to alter course with the son of Twirling Candy and enter in the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

Owned by Reddam Racing, Fore Left has been training forwardly at Belmont Park alongside a string of about a dozen horses that the southern California-based conditioner has kept in New York. In his first work over the Elmont oval, Fore Left drilled through five furlongs in 59.05 seconds over the main track on June 4.

Fore Left has recorded one start in 2020, which was an overseas stakes triumph in the Group 3 United Arab Emirates 2000 Guineas on February 5 at Meydan Racecourse. No stranger to stakes success over Big Sandy, Fore Left won the Tremont as a 2-year-old last season on the eve of the Belmont Stakes.

To properly account for the schedule adjustments and overall calendar for 3-year-olds in training, the race will be run at a distance of 1 1/8-miles, as opposed to its usual 1 1/2-mile distance. O’Neill believes that the distance change of the race will be to his horse’s benefit.

“His last two works over the track were exceptional,” O’Neill said. “He’s settled in well over there and he has a win over the track. He’s just maturing into a really nice 3-year-old and I think that a one-turn mile and an eighth is going to be great for him. He wouldn’t be up for a mile and a half right now.”

Of the three American Classics, the Belmont Stakes is the only one which O’Neill has not yet won. He won the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby twice with I’ll Have Another (2012) and Nyquist (2016) with the former of the two winning the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes in his respective year.

O’Neill’s lone Belmont Stakes starter was Blended Citizen, who ran ninth in 2018 to Triple Crown-winner Justify.

“It’s one of the most prestigious races and even family and friends with very little to no knowledge of racing is familiar with the Belmont Stakes and it’s an honor to be a part of it,” O’Neill said. “It’s on all of our bucket lists and Paul and Zillah are pumped to have a horse good enough to compete. More than anything, we’re just listening to the horse and he’s showing us that he’s ready.”

Boasting a consistent 9-4-0-2 record, Fore Left has won all four of his starts in wire-to-wire fashion. O’Neill said that the horse doesn’t have to have the lead in Saturday’s test, but that he will be in the front tier of horses in the early portion of the race.

“He’s got gate speed and he’ll without a doubt be forwardly placed. I like the fact that we drew the outside to some opposing speed in the race,” O’Neill said.

Fore Left spent the winter in Dubai, where O’Neill kept a small string of horses. The trainer praised the horse’s maturation and development during his time in the Middle East.

“He came back fantastic,” O’Neill said. “We had around 12 horses over there for about three months. As opposed to a usual trip to Dubai where you ship in for the week and then ship out, he was over there for quite a while and he’s really flourished and matured with his time out there.”

Bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall, Fore Left is out of the Unbridled’s Song broodmare Simply Sunny. He will receive the riding services of Jose Ortiz, who guided Tapwrit to victory in the 2017 Belmont Stakes.

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Decorated Invader brings the class in G2 Pennine Ridge

West Point Thoroughbreds’ president and founder Terry Finley expresses a strong sense of appreciation regarding Grade 1-winner Decorated Invader, who will attempt to add a third stakes triumph to his ledger in Saturday’s Grade 2, $150,000 Pennine Ridge over the Widener turf course at Belmont Park.

Trained by Christophe Clement, the son of Declaration of War came from well off the pace in the last-out Cutler Bay, where he was taken back 15 lengths and made a five-wide move around the turn to power home to victory, registering a career-best 88 Beyer Speed Figure.

“I was glad to see that,” Finley said of his last out victory. “He’s been very good and we’re excited. He should get a legit pace and there are pros and cons to a smaller field. I just hope that he’s able to work out the right trip and if he does, he’ll be tough to deal with and tough to handle.”

Decorated Invader has always kept good company even at the maiden level. Following a close second to subsequent graded stakes-winner Field Pass in his July 13 debut at Saratoga, he broke his maiden defeating eventual stakes-winner Summer to Remember over a firm Mellon turf course at the Spa. He followed up with a triumph in the Grade 1 Summer at Woodbine in his stakes debut en route to a late-closing fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita.

Like most owners in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Finley has been forced to call some audibles with his horses, including Decorated Invader who was a likely candidate for graded stakes action in Kentucky in the spring.

“Just like most others with upper end horses right now, its been interesting. Who would have thought that in January when we were planning out a roadmap for him that we would be in this position?” Finley asked. “We looked at Keeneland [Grade 3 Transylvania] and we looked at the race on Derby day at Churchill Downs [Grade 2 American Turf]. It’s not like we were in a different situation than others. In this respect, it’s been a level playing field. We won’t cry over things beyond our control.

“As everyone knows, these kinds of horses are hard to get a hold of,” Finley continued. “We’ve learned over the years to try not to make a mistake with a horse like this. At the top end of the game, you’ve got the best horses, horsemen trainers and managers in the world. It’s not for the faint of heart. You have to really come into these races ready to run as good as you can. It’s fun and can be nerve racking, but this is a fascinating part of the game at this high of a level.”

Finley has partnered with owners William Freeman, William Sandbrook and Cheryl Manning in Decorated Invader. The former of the three owners could be in for a big day Saturday as he is a part owner of Sharing, who is slated to compete in the Group 1 Coronation at Royal Ascot.

Later in the Belmont Stakes Day card, West Point Thoroughbreds has two-time graded stakes winner Kanthaka entered in the Grade 1, $250,000 Jaipur presented by America’s Best Racing. Making his first start for trainer Graham Motion, the 5-year-old son of Jimmy Creed has not raced in 13 months with his last start being a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Daytona at Santa Anita – his lone start on grass.

Kanthaka, who will race as a first-time gelding, owns stakes victories during his 3-year-old campaign when taking the Grade 2 San Vicente and Grade 3 Laz Barrera, both at Santa Anita.

“He’s a horse that has run well off a layoff,” Finley said. “He’s been training at Fair Hill and all systems are go. It’s not an easy spot to come back in, but it is an interesting race. There’s not a horse in the field with no chance.”

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Oleksandra returns to Belmont, faces colts in G1 Jaipur

Team Valor International’s Oleksandra will be putting a consistent record on the line when she faces colts in the Grade 1, $250,000 Jaipur presented by America’s Best Racing over the inner turf course at Belmont Park. The 37th running of the Jaipur is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in November at Keeneland.

Unbeaten in her two starts over the inner turf, the Australian-bred daughter of 2011 Kentucky Derby-hero Animal Kingdom is no stranger to defeating males over the Belmont green, as she beat the boys in an allowance event in June last year following a victory against her female counterpart over the same surface.

Two starts later, she defeated stakes company in the Smart N Fancy at Saratoga before scoring at the graded stakes caliber in the Grade 3 Buffalo Trace Franklin County on October 11 at Keeneland.

Oleksandra did not race again until the following May, where she was a late-closing second to Jolie Olimpica in the Grade 2 Monrovia at Santa Anita and recorded a career-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure for the triumph.

“She’s travelled well, is training well and ran well last time so let’s just hope that she runs well,” trainer Neil Drysdale said with a laugh. “She ran really well last time in California, where the sprint races are a bit more oriented toward speed horses. Another few jumps, and she gets there.”

A Team Valor homebred, Oleksandra boats a consistent record of 14-6-3-3, with her victories taking place over four different turf courses. She is out of the graded stakes-winning Caesour broodmare Alexandra Rose.

Jockey Joel Rosario has piloted Oleksandra six times, never finishing off the board, and will return to the saddle for Saturday’s race.