x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Little Mike held off Big Blue Kitten by a nose to triumph at Belmont park, while there were also wins for Private Zone and Royal Delta.

Little Mike, left, ridden by Mike Smith, wins the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park. AP Photo
Little Mike, left, ridden by Mike Smith, wins the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park. AP Photo

Neither Little Mike nor Private Zone showed their true colours when running down the field in Dubai in March, but both horses will have a huge say in the outcome at the Breeders’ Cup after impressive wins at Belmont Park on Saturday night.

Little Mike bounced back to form in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, thanks to a canny ride from jockey Mike Smith, and will defend his crown in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita in November.

Private Zone was so good in the Group 1 Vosburgh Invitational that he won the six-furlong sprint in record time and will take his chance in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Royal Delta was the third horse to have flopped on World Cup night in Dubai in March who took centre stage on America’s Grade 1 glut, but her loss to Princess Of Sylmar in the Beldame Invitational will not prevent her historic bid for a third Ladies’ Classic.

Little Mike had not won in four starts since his triumph in California last year. As a result, Smith decided to mimic the hold-up tactics that had served jockey Ramon Dominguez so well at Santa Anita in November.

Without having to battle for the lead, Little Mike held off the fast-finishing Big Blue Kitten by a nose with Arlington Million winner Real Solution in third.

“I can mimic all of these jocks,” Smith told the Bloodhorse website. “I know how they all hold their hands. Ramon always puts one on the neck and one way out, so I did it, and he kept running and running and running. My hat’s off to Ramon.”

Private Zone was also involved in a tight finish and he had to dig deep to hold off the sustained attack presented by Justin Phillip, who he eventually denied by a neck.

Justin Phillip appeared to have the race in his grasp when flying past Private Zone with 50 yards to travel. The formerly wayward Californian shipper rallied on the inside under Martin Pedroza, and although there was contact between the two horses, Private Zone survived the stewards’ inquiry to post a stakes race record time of one minute, 8.02 seconds.

It was the second time Private Zone had displayed such mental fortitude, having won the Pirate’s Bounty this month in similar fashion after being freshened up following his ninth-place finish in the Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan Racecourse.

Royal Delta, the two-time Dubai World Cup runner, had no answer to the power of Princess Of Sylmar, who was winning her fourth consecutive Grade 1 contest, having taken the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama Stakes.

Trainer Bill Mott, who later won the US$1 million (Dh3.67m) Jockey Club Cup with Ron The Greek, stated afterwards that Royal Delta would head to Santa Anita.

She is unlikely to meet her conqueror, who must be supplemented for $100,000 despite having her entry fees paid by the Win-And-You’re-In system.

“I really don’t want to stress her,” owner Ed Stanco told the Daily Racing Form. “I don’t want her to be unhappy and come back weak next year.”