Dormant since March 15 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the thoroughbred racing scene in New York will see a burst of fresh activity this week.
Live racing will resume on the New York Racing Association circuit at Belmont Park on Wednesday — fittingly with an unraced 2-year-old named Fauci in the lineup — to kick off a condensed spring/summer meet, with doors closed to the general public, that includes the Belmont Stakes on June 20.
And although it was another quiet day at the Oklahoma Training Track in Saratoga Springs, horsemen were allowed to ship into the barn area as of Tuesday, with training scheduled to begin on Thursday.
Training at the Oklahoma had been postponed from an April 15 start, and NYRA hasn’t raced since a spectator-free Aqueduct card in the middle of March.
“Thankfully, we’re back racing,” four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown told the NYRA media office. “I know the management at NYRA has worked extremely hard to get racing back going, which I know myself and the rest of the horsemen are really appreciative for. I’ve been back in New York now for a couple of weeks, and I feel they’re really doing a great job of keeping the backside safe. I feel very comfortable training here. There’s a lot of people doing a lot of hard work to get racing up and going again and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Following the five-day opening week, live racing at the 25-day Belmont meet will be conducted Thursday through Sunday, with a first post time of 1:15 p.m. The spring/summer meet will conclude on Sunday, July 12, at which point NYRA is scheduled to move racing to Saratoga Race Course for a July 16 opening day.
No plans to allow spectators at Saratoga, even in a limited capacity, have been announced.
The Oklahoma, including the Whitney Viewing Stand, is closed to the public, including horse owners.
Wednesday’s Belmont card features the Grade III Beaugay for fillies and mares on the turf. The six-horse field includes the Brown-trained Rushing Fall and Fifty Five, and Mark Casse’s Got Stormy, who set a track record at Saratoga last year while becoming the first female to win the Fourstardave in 35 runnings.
Rushing Fall is a four-time Grade I winner who hasn’t raced since a fourth in the First Lady at Keeneland on Oct. 5. Prior to that, she was second to stablemate Sistercharlie in the Diana at Saratoga.
She’s the 6-5 favorite on the morning line for the Beaugay, followed by Got Stormy at 7-5.
“This seems like a good starting point,” Brown said. “She’s only run one bad race in her life and that was her last start. She had to overcome some things. She had a mini-layoff and she had gotten really sick at Saratoga. I thought we had her ready [for the First Lady]. She loves Keeneland, but it didn’t work out.”
NAME RINGS A BELL
The 4-5 favorite in the third at Belmont, a five-furlong maiden race for 2-year-olds, was named for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has been leading the national coronavirus task force.
Fauci the horse is unraced, and is trained by Wesley Ward. Co-owner Phillip Antonacci’s son, Frank, picked the colt out of the Keeneland September Yearling Sale and named him after the immunologist.
“Being of Italian-American descent, and for all the great work that Dr. Fauci’s done, they wanted to find a horse, especially in this time, that they could give a high-profile name to and this is the one,” Ward told NYRA.
“He’s training unbelievable. He’s a bigger colt. He doesn’t have a typical speed horse look to him. It looks like he’ll go a little further. He has a long stride and is just an athlete. He goes just as fast as you want him to.”
The Bob Baffert-trained Arrogate, who broke a track record in winning the 2016 Travers at Saratoga on his way to becoming the all-time leader in purse earnings in North America, died on Tuesday at the age of 7.
Owner Juddmonte Farms announced that it had euthanized Arrogate in Lexington, Kentucky, after he had failed to respond to treatment of an illness for over a week. In the announcement, Juddmonte said it was still unclear what the illness was and that a post-mortem examination would be performed.
Despite having raced just 11 times in his career, Arrogate blew away the competition in several races with highly lucrative purses and finished with $17,422,600.
Among his victories was the Breeders’ Cup Classic as a 3-year-old in 2016 and the Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup at the beginning of 2017.
That completed a four-race winning streak that began with the Travers, in which he covered a mile and a quarter on the Saratoga main track in 1:59.36, breaking a track record that had stood since 1979, when General Assembly won the Travers in 2:00.
His 13 1/2-length margin of victory was the third-longest in the history of the Travers, first run in 1864.
“It’s crazy,” jockey Mike Smith said after the 2016 Travers. “He just did a mile and a quarter, and as you can see galloping out, I had trouble getting him to stop.”
“I mean, that was ridiculous,” Baffert said after the race. “Broke a track record. When I saw 1:59, I was like, wow . . . and Mike didn’t know how far he won by. He thought somebody was coming.”
“We will never forget the ride Arrogate took us on, Juddmonte USA general manager Garrett O’Rourke said in the Juddmonte release. “Those four amazing races established him as one of the great racehorses of our time, breaking two track records, taking down champion California Chrome in a battle for the ages and then running by Gun Runner in another worldly performance in Dubai. We hope that the heartbreak of losing him so young can be soothed by proudly watching the achievement of his runners.”
COLLMUS GETS GIG
Track announcer Larry Collmus, who left the NYRA circuit last year, will share announcing duties with Michael Wrona for six days of racing at the Kentucky Downs September meet in Franklin, Kentucky.
The veteran Collmus, who began working for NYRA in 2015 after Tom Durkin retired, has been the voice of the Triple Crown on NBC since 2011 and the Breeders’ Cup since 2012.
He and Wrona will split duties for the opening day card on Sept. 7, two days after Collmus is calling the rescheduled Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, and Collmus will go solo for the last three days of the meet, Sept 12, 13 and 16.
“I’m excited about calling the races at Kentucky Downs and looking forward to getting back in action,” Collmus said in a release from Kentucky Downs. “The purses at Kentucky Downs are second to none and the unique layout is a fun challenge. I’m thrilled to share the mic with Michael. We’ve known each other for decades, and we certainly have a lot in common.”
“This is a great coup for Kentucky Downs to get two of the best announcers in the world to call our six days of racing,” Kentucky Downs general manager Ted Nicholson said. “For Larry to be even available is incredible, but I’m thrilled he was. I’ve known Larry for 30 years. It’s great to get him alongside Michael. To have both of them on opening day — our first on Labor Day — is just amazing. They are two of the best announcers anywhere. We’ll have fun with this.”