(2018 Belmont Stakes Logo / Courtesy of www.belmontstakes.com)

From the Media Team at NYRA:

The New York Racing Association will offer $3.4 million in guaranteed wagers during the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Belmont Park, capped by a $1.5 million Guaranteed Pick 4 on Belmont Stakes Day, Saturday, June 9.

Friday, June 8, features a $500,000 Guaranteed Late Pick 4 beginning in Race 8 (post time 4:42 p.m. ET). The 11-race card, which begins at 12:50 p.m., includes the Grade 2, $600,000 New York, the Grade 2, $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational, the Grade 2, $250,000 True North, the Grade 3, $250,000 Bed o’ Roses Invitational and the $150,000 Tremont.

Also on Friday are a pair of two-day guaranteed Daily Double wagers: a $100,000 Guaranteed New York- Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap double and a $300,000 Guaranteed Belmont Gold Cup-Belmont Stakes double.

Advance wagering on the full Belmont Stakes Day card will be available on Friday.

Belmont Stakes Day features a first-race post time of 11:35 a.m. and $500,000 Guaranteed Pick 5 beginning in Race 1. A $500,000 Guaranteed Pick 6 begins on Race 6 (post time 2:34 p.m.).

The $1.5 million Guaranteed Pick 4 begins on Race 8 (3:58 p.m.) and concludes with Race 11, the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, in which undefeated Justify attempts to become racing’s 13thTriple Crown champion.

Expected to challenge the Bob Baffert trainee are Preakness runner-up Bravazo and third-place finished Tenfold; Grade 3 Peter Pan winner Blended Citizen; former European standout Gronkowski, now in the care of trainer Chad Brown; Derby veterans Hofburg (7th), Vino Rosso (9th), Free Drop Bill (16th) and Noble Indy (17th); and the Baffert-trained Restoring Hope.

The 1 ½ mile-Belmont is scheduled to go off at 6:46 p.m. and will be broadcast live by NBC from 4-7 p.m. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on NBCSN.

In addition to the Belmont itself, Belmont Stakes Day also features the:

  • Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap
  • Grade 1, $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan
  • Grade 1, $750,000 Ogden Phipps
  • Grade 1, $700,000 Acorn presented by Nassau County IDA
  • Grade 1, $700,000 Longines Just a Game
  • Grade 2, $400,000 Woody Stephens
  • Grade 2, $400,000 Brooklyn Invitational
  • Grade 2, $400,000 Jaipur Invitational
  • $150,000 Easy Goer

The three-day Belmont takes Racing Festival kicks off on Thursday, June 7, with a first-race post time of 2 p.m. and features three stakes: The Grade 3, $200,000 Intercontinental, the Grade 3, $200,000 Wonder Again and the $150,000 Astoria.

Here’s a glimpse at some of the other Stakes races carded this week:

G2 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational / Friday, June 8:

Centennial Farms’ Rocketry, a popular and decisive allowance winner last out,will get a test of both class and endurance as he makes his return to graded-stakes competition in the Grade 2, $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational Friday at Belmont Park.

The fifth running of the two-mile Gold Cup Invitational, for 4-year-olds and up on the grass, is among five stakes, four graded, worth $1.65 million in purses on Day 2 of the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival. It is the second-richest on an 11-race card topped by the Grade 2, $600,000 New York for older females, also on turf.

Rocketry, a 4-year-old son of multiple graded-stakes winner Hard Spun, exits a three-length win as the favorite in a 1 ¼-mile second-level optional claiming allowance over a Belmont turf course rated good April 27. It marked his first win since an entry-level allowance last July at Saratoga Race Course.

“He’s doing good. He seems like he came back from the race good,” trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. “Two miles is two miles, but he acts like if any horse is able to do it, it’s him – the way his style is and just the way he’s been since the beginning. He’d fall way back early in his races, and horses that are usually that deliberate usually like to go a long way.”

Rocketry has gone as far as 1 3/8 miles twice, winning both times. He broke his maiden at the distance last June at Belmont prior to his triumph at Saratoga. In his only previous graded-stakes tries, he was fourth in the Grade 3 Saranac and sixth in the Grade 3 Hill Prince, both at 1 1/8 miles, last fall.

“We weren’t really looking at this race because it’s an invitational, but they called [Centennial’s] Don Little to invite him to the race if he had any interest in it. Once we found that out we said, ‘Might as well,'” Jerkens said. “It’s a big purse and not too many horses want to go that far. I’m not absolutely sure ours does either, but he seems to be relaxed enough in the early part of his races to where he can get in a nice rhythm for two miles.”

Edmond and Sharon Hudon’s Nessy, narrowly beaten in a pair of graded turf marathons at Gulfstream Park over the winter, is coming off a one-length victory in the Grade 3 San Juan Capistrano run at about 1 ¾ miles April 22 over the turf course at Santa Anita.

The 6-year-old gelding has shown an affinity for the longer distances, winning a 1 ½-mile allowance and running second in the 1 5/8-mile John’s Call at Saratoga and finishing second in the Grade 3 Sycamore last fall at Keeneland.

This year, the Ian Wilkes trainee was second in the Grade 3 W.L. McKnight and third in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream, beaten a total of two lengths. Hall of Famer Mike Smith, aboard for the last start, gets the return call from Post 6 at co-highweight of 121 pounds.

“Nessy’s really gotten into a nice niche, a nice rhythm,” Wilkes said. “And he’s developing. The farther they go, the better he gets.”

Completing the field are 2017 Laurel Turf Cup winner Canessar, sixth in the Grade 2 Elkhorn April 21 off a six-month layoff in his lone start this year; Postulation, winner of the Grade 3 American St. Leger last August who ran sixth in the Grade 1 Man o’ War May 12 at Belmont; Cooptado, a Group 1 winner in Singapore in 2015 exiting a seventh-place finish in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap May 19; and recent Keeneland allowance winner Focus Group, making his graded-stakes debut for trainer Chad Brown.

Tremont Stakes / Friday, June 8:

Always a dominating force in juvenile races, trainer Todd Pletcher will saddle a talented trio in Friday’s $150,000 Tremont for 2-year-olds going 5 ½ furlongs at Belmont Park on the second day of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.

Leading the charge for Pletcher’s contingent is Outshine. Purchased for $625,000 as a yearling at the Keeneland September sale for owners Let’s Go Stable and Richard Schibell, the son of Malibu Moon won his debut on an off track on May 17 at Belmont, besting a field of six to win by 2 ¾ lengths.

Social Fan – sired by multiple graded stakes winner Overanalyze, a multiple graded stakes winner for Pletcher – will be making his third start in the Tremont. Adding blinkers in his second start, Social Fan won wire-to-wire against a field of seven on May 4 at Belmont.

Completing the Pletcher triumvirate is Sombeyay, purchased for $230,000 as a yearling at the Keeneland September sale. He enters the Tremont off an impressive 6 ¼-length debut win on April 27 at Gulfstream Park.

“All three are doing well coming into this race,” said Pletcher. “Like a lot of these 2-year-old races, everybody’s sort of in the same boat coming from a maiden win into a stake race, but they each seemed to break their maidens the way you want to see and we’ll see how they’ve continued to develop.”

Pletcher – who has won the Tremont five times, most recently in 2016 with Silver Mission – is a big supporter of the NYRA juvenile stakes series.

“I think New York has developed a really good 2-year-old program,” said Pletcher. “With the early maiden races, it gives you the opportunity if you have some really precocious runners, but to me the most important thing was that they brought back the Tremont and Astoria [filly division]. For a while there, if you broke your maiden early it was almost a disadvantage. You didn’t have anywhere to run until Saratoga, so to have these two races here really helps the 2-year-old program.”

Outshine, will leave from post 4 with Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard. Social Fan will depart from post 3 with Manny Franco in the irons, and Sombeyay will leave from post 2 with Luis Saez in the irons.

Shipping in from Churchill and expected to arrive at Belmont on Tuesday for owner Whispering Oaks Farm and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen is Sir Truebadour. Purchased for $300,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale, the son of More Than Ready won his debut on May 17 at Churchill by four lengths, recording a field-high 70 Beyer Speed Figure.

Sir Truebadour will leave from post 6 with Ricardo Santana, Jr. in the irons.

Rounding out the field are Girls Love Me for trainer Anthony Farrior and owner Michael Coombs, Our Braintrust for trainer Cathal Lynch and owner Stanton Smith, Jr., and filly Mae Never No for trainer Wesley Ward and owner Ice Wine Stable.

True North Handicap / Friday, June 8:

It’s been a while, about 20 months, since Joking was seen in the winner’s circle after the Grade 1 Vosburgh, which punched his ticket to the 2016 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint for owner-trainer Charlton Baker.

Joking never got a chance to run in the Breeders’ Cup. The now 9-year-old son of Distorted Humor developed life-threatening pneumonia soon after arriving in California, but has fully recovered and is ready for a comeback in the 40th running of the Grade 2, $250,000 True North Handicap on Friday at Belmont Park.

“I’m excited to get him back to racing,” Baker said from his base at Finger Lakes. “He looks like he’s ready to compete.”

The True North is one of five stakes races on the second day of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, and comes a day before Justify attempts to win the Triple Crown in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.

A field of eight was entered for the True North, a 6 ½-furlong dirt race for 4-year-olds and up. Also entered were Bobby Abu Dhabi, Limousine Liberal, Whitmore, Westwood, Recruiting Ready, Always Sunshine and Imperial Hint.

Joking is the best horse Baker’s ever saddled, having been claimed as a 5-year-old in 2014 for $20,000. The horse, who broke his maiden in 2012 in his third start, was 1-for-11 when he came to Baker’s barn. By 2016, Joking was a serious racehorse, winning four straight, capped by the True North and the Vosburgh.

“He was my first graded stakes winner and first Grade 1 winner, so when he got sick I really want to save his life,” Baker, who has been training horses for 20 years, said. “His presence in the barn is just so nice. He’s a special horse.”

Manny Franco, who was aboard Joking for his winning streak, the return call again.

“I’m anxious to ride him. He’s really a nice horse,” Franco said.

Joking was treated at the Chino Valley Equine Hospital by Dr. Andreas Klohnen for several months after he became ill. Baker said it was “touch and go” for about the first 45 days. Joking returned East in January, 2017, was cared for by Dr. Patty Hogan in New Jersey, spent time on the farm recovering and returned to training last October.

Joking’s lifetime record stands at 39-10-8-8 for earnings of $846,138.

Rockingham Ranch and David A. Bernsen’s Bobby Abu Dhabi won the Grade 2 Kona Gold in his last start after a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Triple Bend in his first start of the year.

“He has really matured for us the past few months,” trainer Peter Miller said of his 4-year-old chestnut son of Macho Uno, who will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.

“He’s become a bigger, stronger version of the horse we had last year.”

Katharine G. Ball’s 6-year-old Limousine Liberal won the Grade 2 Churchill Downs in his last start and has career earnings of more than $1.3 million.

Ron Moquett’s Southern Springs Stables, Robert LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners Whitmore looks to improve on his third-place finish in last year’s True North. Trained by Moquett, the 5-year-old son of Pleasantly Perfect is 10-for-19, with three seconds and two thirds, earning $1.5 million.

“I think he’s better [than last year]. He’s smarter, or we’re learning little things about him all the time,” Moquett said. “He’s teaching us how he wants to be trained.”

Godolphin Racing LLC’s Westwood heads into the race off a victory in the Runhappy at Belmont – the 4-year-old son of Bernardini’s first stakes win and third win in four starts in 2018.

Raymond Mamone’s Imperial Hint won four of five races last year, including a pair of G3 sprints, and ran second to Roy H in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. The 5-year-old was sixth in the Churchill Downs on May 5.

Stonehedge LLC’s Always Sunshine is a graded stakes winner coming off a third-place in the Runhappy, and Sagamore Farm’s Recruiting Ready won an optional claimer at Belmont in his last start.

G3 Intercontinental Stakes / Thursday, June 7:

Curragh Stable’s Heavenly Score will make her graded stakes debut at Belmont Park as part of a field of 10 set to go postward in the Grade 3, $200,000 Intercontinental for fillies and mares on Thursday, the first day of the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.

The Intercontinental, at seven furlongs on the Widener turf, is one of three stakes on Thursday’s program, bookended by the $150,000 Astoria and the Grade 3, $200,000 Wonder Again, carded as Races 6-8. As one of the premier weekends in North American thoroughbred racing, the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival from June 7-9 is comprised of 18 stakes worth $9.4 million in purses and highlighted by the 150th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, presented by NYRA Bets, which will see undefeated Justify try to become only the 13th Triple Crown champion.

An Arkansas-bred daughter of Even the Score, Heavenly Score got a freshening earlier this year following her 4-year-old debut in the Interborough at Aqueduct Racetrack in January, tiring in the turn to finish a lackluster seventh.

As a 2-year-old, she debuted late in the season with only one start to her credit. Heavenly Score made a respectable showing as a sophomore, however, winning four of 10 starts, including a seventh-length optional-claiming victory to close out her 2018 campaign en route to being named Arkansas-bred Horse of the Year this March.

“In that race, she didn’t get off well and didn’t fire,” trainer John Terranova said of the Interborough. “The time before, she got away comfortably. But, after the Interborough, we decided to back up and freshen her for the spring and summer, and she’s been training lights out.

“I know it’s a quality group but she’s on top of her game,” he added.

Heavenly Prize will be ridden by David Cohen from post 5.

Switching gears in the Intercontinental is Baoma Corporation’s Faypien, trying turf for the first time for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. A three-time stakes winner on dirt, the 4-year-old Ghostzapper filly is exiting a fourth-place effort in the Grade 2 Ruffian on May 6 at Belmont. Since then, Faypien has recorded two local turf works, including a bullet five-furlong move on May 22.

Faypien will break from post 8 with Luis Saez in the irons.

Australian Bloodstock’s Delectation will rejoin her gender group in the Intercontinental for trainer Wesley Ward. A British-bred filly by Delegator, Delectation faced males last time out off of a six-month layoff, finishing a close fourth in the Grade 3 Turf Sprint under Hall of Famer John Velazquez on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs.

“I took her over last fall and she had a lot of really minor issues that kept her from running down there at Gulfstream all winter, but she had a really big race with Johnny Velazquez against the colts,” said Ward. “I’ve really liked her and I think she’s going to run a really good race.”

Velazquez has the return call. The pair will break from post 7.

The Intercontinental will also feature a reprise of the April 29 License Fee, featuring three of the top five runners of the six-furlong contest over a turf course listed “good” on Belmont’s opening weekend.

Heider Family Stable’s Lady Alexandra earned a field-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure for her 3 ½-lenghth victory in her first start for trainer Graham Motion. With a lifetime record of four wins and a third from eight starts, the 4-year-old More Than Ready filly will be partnered again with Jose Ortiz, breaking from post 6.

License Fee beaten favorite and Christophe Clement trainee Stormy Victoria will look to improve on her most recent effort, where she turned for home seven wide to finish second in her third start of the year. In six starts on the grass at Belmont, she hasn’t finished worse than third with a 6-3-2-1 local turf record.

“Her last race was a good race, she was second best that day,” said Clement. “I think she’s been training well since that race and I think seven-eighths is perfect for her, so let’s go. With the softer turf that day, she gave me hope that she can improve off that race. She looked very well, and if her bad race is a second, then it’s not that bad of a race.”

The 6-year-old French-bred mare by Stormy River will have Joel Rosario in the irons, leaving from post 10.

Godolphin Racing’s Always Thinking, fifth in the License Fee, will try to turn the tables on her rivals this time around. Winner of the 2017 Sensible Lady Turf Dash at Laurel Park last September, the 5-year-old Street Sense mare has failed to hit the board in five subsequent starts, but hasn’t been beaten more than four lengths each time.

“She just needs a good trip,” said trainer Tom Albertrani. “Last time, she didn’t appreciate the softer ground, so I’m hoping that on firmer ground we could make up a couple of lengths. She always seems like she’s right there. They’re the same horses as the last time, we’re just hoping to change the order of finish a little bit in this one.”

Always Thinking has drawn post 3 and will be ridden by Manny Franco.

Also on tap for the Intercontinental are the French-bred La Sardane, making her third 2018 start since transferring to Neil Drysdale’s barn; Mike Maker-conditioned I’m Betty G, exiting a 1 ½-length optional-claiming victory April 28 at Belmont; and a pair of George Weaver trainees in multiple graded stakes-placed Thundering Sky and Malibu Stacy, who deadheated for second in a May 10 optional-claimer at Belmont.