Belmont keeping summer horse racing hot

Belmont keeping summer horse racing hot

July 11, 2017 3:00 AM


Most racing fans are looking ahead to the annual summer meets at Saratoga in upstate New York and Del Mar in Southern California. Both tracks, in fact, will open soon and feature some of the most prestigious and richest races in America. Yet, this past Saturday at Belmont Park we saw a day of racing that will be hard for either of these historic tracks to match.

Specifically, Belmont offered 11 races worth more than $4.1 million in purses, including five Graded stakes. Two were at 1-1/4 miles on the grass – the $1.2 million Belmont Derby for 3-year-olds and the $1 million Belmont Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.

A third 1-1/4 mile stakes also was run at Belmont on Saturday – the $750,000 Suburban for older horses. And, if that wasn’t enough high class action, Saturday’s Belmont card also presented the $400K Dwyer for 3-year-olds at one mile and the $350K Belmont Sprint stakes at 7 furlongs.

For sure Saratoga, which opens Friday, July 21, will have 69 stakes this summer, including the traditional Travers to be run on Aug. 26. Often called “the mid-summer” Derby, this 1-1/4 mile race has been an historic forum for the top 3-year-olds who competed in Triple Crown races, or were forced to miss them for some reason. For instance, 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming is being pointed to the $1.25 million Travers by way of a preliminary start in the $600K Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 29.

Del Mar, which is scheduled to open Wednesday, July 19, will have 41 stakes this year, including the famous $1 million Pacific Classic to be run at 1-1/4 miles on Aug. 19. At this moment, most of the racing world is anticipating 2016 Horse of the Year Arrogate, winner of a record $17 million to date, will be in this year’s Pacific Classic. But first, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is expected to give Arrogate a prep race in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 22.

Since Arrogate lost his career debut in April 2016, the son of Unbridled’s Song has won seven straight, including four Grade-1 stakes – the 2016 Travers, the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic last Fall, the inaugural $12 million Pegasus Invitational at Gulfstream Park in January and the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March.

To prepare for his imminent return, Arrogate recently put in a solid 6 furlong workout in 1:12-2/5 while going by stablemate Uninvited with the greatest of ease; galloping out 7-furlongs in 1:25-3/5 and a mile in 1:38 flat. Frankly, if Arrogate comes back to the races as strong as he left a few months ago, I believe we will be watching the best racehorse of the past few decades. He has been that impressive!

Yet, as hinted at the top of this column, I believe Saturday’s ultra-rich card at Belmont Park was not only among the best of the year, it identified several good horses we are likely to see at Saratoga and Del Mar this summer. For instance, the victory by Practical Joke in the one mile Dwyer demonstrated he has recovered from his modest fifth place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

En route to the Travers, Practical Joke is likely to go in Saratoga’s $600K Jim Dandy on July 29, or the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on the Jersey shore, July 30. Regardless, whenever Practical Joke shows up at Saratoga, we should remember he won that track’s 2016 Grade-1 Hopeful and has earned more than $1.25 million winning four of eight career races with two seconds and a third.

While Keen Ice and Shaman Ghost finished 1-2 in the Suburban, either or both may be seen again in the $1.2 million Whitney stakes at Saratoga, Aug. 5. Beyond those two, it is conceivable the winner of Saturday’s Belmont Sprint Championship, Mind Your Biscuits, could remain in New York for the $350K Alfred Vanderbilt at 6 furlongs, July 29; or be shipped to Del Mar for a similar sprint stakes. After all, Mind Your Biscuits has won Graded sprint stakes on both coasts.

The same option to run at Saratoga or Del Mar will be available for Oscar Performance, winner of the Belmont Derby on Saturday. Among his credentials Oscar Performance won a maiden race on the Saratoga grass by 10 lengths last summer and then shipped west to take the Grade-1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita, Nov. 4.

Beyond all of that, the story behind what happened in the G-1 Belmont Oaks is quite unique. That’s because trainer Chad Brown, a rising star in the sport, swept the top three finishing positions.

New Money Honey won the race; heavily favored Sistercharlie was second, and Uni, third. While the only realistic Saratoga target for these three turf fillies is the $300K, 1-1/8 mile Lake Placid, Aug.19, it is a near certainty Brown will continue to make his presence felt in upstate N.Y. throughout the summer.