If only Henley’s Joy could navigate a trip, Jeff Bloom insisted, the colt was due to outrun his odds in a major race.
That scenario played out Saturday when the Bloom Racing Stable runner broke on top in the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby, then conserved enough for a winning move in the headline event to the Stars & Stripes Racing Festival.
A son of Kitten’s Joy, Henley’s Joy took a ground-saving trip under jockey Jose Lezcano before hooking off the rail to pass Social Paranoia in the stretch and strike at 20-1.
Mike Maker trains for Bloom, who also campaigns leading older female Midnight Bisou.
“That felt good,” Bloom said. “He broke great. Jose had him in a beautiful spot. He had a clean trip the whole way around.
“We’ve been saying it for so long. It’s easy to make excuses, but this horse has had so much trouble. We’ve always felt that he’s this kind of horse and he got to show it today."
Moon Colony, who broke from the inside post, rain along the hedge to set fractions of :23.31, :47.80 and 1:11.60 in the 1 ¼-mile 3-year-old turf feature. Pace-stalking Social Paranoia moved down toward the rail at the top of the stretch to overtake Moon Colony, while Henley’s Joy worked up and found running room outside those two.
From there, Henley’s Joy powered by Social Paranoia to win by a length. The 20-1 shot paid $43.60 and crossed in 1:58.29.
"The horse seemed very comfortable," Lezcano said. "Around the backside, I was a little worried he was kind of jumping off the bridle. When I asked him to take off, it was easier because of how he broke out of the gate."
Social Paranoia held on for second as Rockemperor ran on for third. Digital Age, a tepid morning line favorite, finished fourth in a full field of 14.
The Kentucky-bred Henley’s Joy now sports four wins over 11 starts. He’d won a pair of black-type stakes, but his best graded stakes results before Saturday were a pair of runner-up finishes at Keeneland in last October’s Dixiana Bourbon (G3) and in April’s Transylvania (G3).
Last out Henley’s Joy came home fourth over the same Belmont turf in the Pennine Ridge Stakes (G3). The three horses that beat Henley’s Joy in that June 1 race, Demarchelier, Seismic Wave and Social Paranoia, all ran behind him Saturday.
A Belmont Derby victory should spring Henley’s Joy on to the next leg of the new Turf Trinity series for 3-year-olds, the Aug. 4 Saratoga Derby.
“The funny thing is, we were on the bubble,” Bloom said. “We weren’t even sure we’d make it in this race. We felt like, ‘This is our race. ‘We’ve got to get in here.’
“Now having won this, we can relax and go into these other two races knowing we’ve got a horse that can legitimately take the Turf Trinity.”
Pennine Ridge champ Demarchelier never factored in the Belmont Derby and then pulled up “with a right-front lameness,” said Sara Langsam, the track’s on-call veterinarian.
Langsam said the Great British-bred Demarchelier, a Chad Brown trainee, was vanned off for further evaluation and that the injury was “nothing catastrophic at the moment.”