On the heels of last Friday’s announcement of a blockbuster infusion of stakes on Belmont Day, the New York Racing Association has revamped the rest of the Belmont Park spring/summer meet.
Martin Panza has been a busy man since he was hired as senior vice president of racing operations in November. He unveiled a schedule that shuffles several well-known stakes and bolsters the Fourth of July and Mother’s Day cards.
The meet begins on May 1 and ends on July 13 before NYRA heads to Saratoga Race Course for opening day on Friday, July 18.
Belmont will host an inaugural Stars & Stripes Day on Saturday, July 5, that will feature five graded stakes worth a total of $3.35 million in purses.
The familiar Suburban, which will return to 10 furlongs for the first time since 2009, and the Dwyer for 3-year-olds will be joined by two seven-digit purse turf stakes for 3-year-olds, the $1.25 Belmont Derby and $1 million Belmont Oaks, both at a mile and a quarter.
To gain Grade I status for those two races, NYRA has dropped the Jamaica and Garden City from the fall lineup.
The Stars & Stripes card will include another new race, the seven-furlong Belmont Sprint Championship.
On Mother’s Day May 11, Belmont will offer three graded stakes — the Grade I Man o’ War, Grade II Ruffian and Grade III Westchester — along with a $100,000 turf sprint called the License Fee.
The Man o’ War usually has been run in July. It will be televised live on FOX Sports 1 as part of the new “The Jockey Club Tour on FOX” series that debuted earlier this month.
After moving the Met Mile and some other stakes from Memorial Day to Belmont Day to create an $8 million card, Panza has filled the gap on Memorial Day by moving the one-mile Poker and introducing the Pennine Ridge as a prep for the Belmont Derby.
The top three finishers in the Pennine Ridge will be guaranteed invitations to the Belmont Derby.
A corresponding prep for the Belmont Oaks, the Wonder Again, will be held on May 25.
Because of the purses, Panza said he believes the Derby and Oaks will draw oversubscribed fields, making the Pennine Ridge and Wonder Again attractive races for horsemen who have good 3-year-old turf horses.
With no obvious stakes that would seem attractive to owner Morton Fink and trainer Charlie LoPresti on Belmont Day, Panza positioned the Poker on May 26 as a spot that could be suitable for Wise Dan.
“We are hopeful that, given the lack of big-money opportunities at a mile on the grass, the Poker could attract two-time defending Horse of the Year champion Wise Dan,” Panza said in a NYRA release on Thursday.
Over the last two seasons, Wise Dan has run in the Fourstardave at Saratoga, Woodbine Mile, Shadwell Turf Mile at Churchill Downs and Breeders’ Cup Mile as his summer-fall schedule.
NYRA has brought back the juvenile stakes Astoria for fillies and Tremont for colts for the first time since 2008.
Those races will be held June 14 and 15, respectively.
Strong Mandate, who won the Hopeful at Saratoga last year, will make his 3-year-old debut in the Grade III Southwest on Oaklawn Park’s Presidents Day card on Monday.
He’ll break from post 8 in a field of 12 that includes Tapiture, who skipped the Breeders’ Cup, but ended his 2013 season on a winning note by taking the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 30.
Strong Mandate was third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
The Southwest will be a rematch of Strong Mandate’s maiden win, at 16-1, at Saratoga.
Tapiture was second by 4 1⁄2 lengths in that race and was still a maiden when he won the Kentucky Jockey Club.
He has been training at Fair Grounds, but got a work at Oaklawn during the race card on Thursday. The track was closed to training in the morning because of bad weather.
“The horse went over the racetrack well,” trainer Steve Asmussen told the Oaklawn Park press office. “That’s what we were hoping for. He showed up fit. I just wanted to give him a little feel of the racetrack.”
Strong Mandate has been working steadily at Oaklawn for trainer D. Wayne Lukas and snapped off a 48.60 for four furlongs on Feb. 2 that was the fastest of 78 works at the distance that day.
The other Kentucky Derby preps this weekend are the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields today and the San Vicente at Santa Anita on Sunday.
The Tom Proctor-trained Enterprising is the slight morning-line favorite, at 5-2, for the El Camino Real Derby, coming off a second in the California Derby.
The field of five for the San Vicente includes Bob Baffert’s Roger Rocket, who was unraced at 2 and opened 2014 with a maiden win on Jan. 18.
AROUND THE TRACKS
Larry Collmus has replaced Mark Johnson as the track announcer at Churchill Downs. . . .
Samantha Nicole, a full sister to Rachel Alexandra, will make her career debut in the fourth race at Fair Grounds on Sunday. . . .
Eblouissante, the full sister to Zenyatta, finished second to Macha as the 3-5 favorite in an allowance at Santa Anita on Thursday.
It was Eblouissante’s first start since she was sixth in the Shuvee at Saratoga on July 20. . . .
The excitement over Gracer’s 10 1⁄4-length win in the Dearly Precious at Aqueduct last Saturday didn’t last long.
The three-time stakes winner, who broke her maiden at Saratoga last year, came out of the race with a broken sesamoid and was retired. . . .
Alpha, the 2012 Travers winner and 2013 Woodward winner at Saratoga, is entered in the Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream Park today. He’ll face 5-2 favorite Twilight Eclipse, the 2013 Sword Dancer runner-up, in the field of nine. . . .
Grade I winner Egg Drop will shoot for her fourth straight graded stakes victory on Monday in the Buena Vista at Santa Anita.
She finished 2014 with a win in the Matriarch.
HERE AND THERE
Jockey David Cohen was scheduled for surgery on his broken leg on Friday and is expected to be out for at least six months, according to the Daily Racing Form.
Cohen was kicked by a horse in the paddock at Aqueduct last month. . . .
Corfu, who broke the stakes record in the Saratoga Special last year, has been retired to stud at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, Fla. He was winless in four starts since the Saratoga Special, including a ninth in the Hopeful. . . .
Grammy Award winner Lorde has signed to perform during the Preakness Day infield festival.