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Apr 24, 2015

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD-BELMONT OPENS 2015

By: JOE GIRARDI


               After a long hard winter, with many cancellations, the racing at Aqueduct is finally coming to an end. Belmont Park opens its doors on April 29th and runs through Sunday July 19th. Hopefully with the move to Belmont Park and Keeneland’s  meeting coming to a close, the quality of racing in New York will go up.

               Belmont Park is a huge racetrack, 1 and ½ miles around. All races on the main track, up to 1 and 1/8th miles are run around one turn, something that definitely needs to be taken into account when wagering at Belmont. There are two turf courses and look for many turf races to be run at Belmont, weather permitting.

               The stakes races get underway on opening day, Wednesday April 29th with the Elusive Quality stakes, a race for four year olds and upward, run over the turf at seven furlongs. There are three graded stakes races on Kentucky Derby Day, May 2nd, the Fort Marcy a Grade III, is a race for four year olds and upward, run over the turf at 1 and 1/8th miles carrying a purse of $150,000. The Sheepshead Bay, a Grade II, is a race for fillies and mares for four year olds and upward, run over the turf at 1 and 3/8ths miles and carrying a purse of $200,000. Finally the Westchester, a Grade III, for four year olds and upward, run over the main track at a mile with a purse of $150,000. This race serves as a prep race for the Met Mile which will be run on Belmont Stakes undercard for the second year in a row.

               The first Grade I of the meeting comes on the following week on May 9th in the form of the Grade I Man O’War, a race for four year olds and upward, run over the turf at 1 and 3/8ths miles and should host some of the top turf horses in the country.

               The next Grade I race will not be until Belmont Stakes day, June 6th. There are 10 stakes races on that day, nine graded stakes races and six grade I’s. The Grade I races are the Manhattan, a race for four year olds and upward, run over the turf at 1 and ¼ miles with a purse of $1 million dollars. The Ogden Phipps, a race for fillies and mares, four year olds and upward will be run over the main track at 1 and 1/16th miles with a purse of $1 million dollars. The Just A Game is another Grade I race for fillies and mares, four years old and upward run over the turf at one mile, the purse of the race is $700,000. The Acorn, a race for three year old fillies will be run over the main track at one mile and will carry a purse of $750,000. The Metropolitan Handicap, a race for three year olds and upward over the main track at one mile will carry a purse of $1.25k million dollars. This race was always run on Memorial Day but NYRA wanted to try and enhance its big racing days so they moved this race to Belmont Stakes day last year. Back in 1982, Conquistador Cielo, won the Met Mile and then five days later won the Belmont, obviously we will not see that again based on how the races are scheduled. Shared Belief, who came out of the Charles Town Classic with an injury was being thought of to run in this race but will not compete now, however the Met Mile should have a top notch field. The final Grade I of the day will be the highlight of the meeting, the Belmont Stakes. The final leg of the Triple Crown and the “Test of the Champion”, a race for three year olds run over the grueling 1 and ½ miles distance with a purse of $1.5 million dollars. Despite some problems that NYRA had serving the crowd last year when California Chrome went for the Triple Crown, the racing was exceptional and should offer some great betting opportunities.

               Last year’s jockey standings for the Spring/Summer meeting was a dead-heat as Javier Castellano and Irad Ortiz Jr. finished in a tie atop the standings with 51 wins each. Joel Rosario was third with 42 wins, Jose Ortiz was fourth with 41 wins and Cornelio Velasquez checked in fifth with 37 wins. Look for those top five along with Jose Lezcano, John Velazquez, Junior Alvarado, Luis Saez, Rajiv Maragh as well as apprentices, Angel Cruz and Eric Cancel to have an impact on this meeting.

               When looking at the trainers standings last year it wasn’t a surprise to see Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown take the top two spots with 28 and 24 wins respectively. Christophe Clement, who trained the Belmont winner Tonalist checked in third with 21 wins with David Jacobson and Linda Rice finishing fourth and fifth with 19 and 18 wins respectively. Look for Jimmy Jerkens, who had nine wins last year at this meeting but won at 35% to have a solid meeting as well as Michelle Nevin and John Toscano Jr. who are both enjoying solid meetings as Aqueduct comes to an end.



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