ELMONT, N.Y. – Horse vans were streaming in and out of the stable gate here Wednesday morning as the transition from the Saratoga summer to the fall at Belmont Park continued.
Following the pomp and circumstance of 40 days at Saratoga – and three dark days – racing on this circuit resumes Friday with the opening of the Belmont fall meeting. The 38-day session runs through Oct. 30. First post from Friday through Oct. 2 will be 1:30 p.m. Eastern, and thereafter it will be 12:55 p.m.
Though this will mark the 11th straight year that the Breeders’ Cup will not be held in New York, Belmont Park will host many key stepping-stones to the two-day event, which will be held at Santa Anita on Nov. 4-5.
Of the 42 stakes worth $10.65 million offered at this meet, a dozen are designed to give horses a final start before the Breeders’ Cup.
The first of two Super Saturday cards is Oct. 1, topped by the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, which had its purse cut to $500,000 from $600,000. The Grade 1 Vosburgh, now worth $350,000, down from $400,000, and the Grade 1, $400,000 Beldame are also on that card, along with the Grade 2, $350,000 Gallant Bloom and the Grade 3, $200,000 Pilgrim.
On Oct. 8, the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup is one of seven stakes, including three other Grade 1 events – the $500,000 Flower Bowl, $500,000 Champagne, and 400,000 Frizette. Also on that card are the Grade 3, $500,000 Hill Prince; Grade 2, $350,000 Kelso, which was cut from $400,000 last year; and the inaugural $150,000 Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational.
Saturday’s feature is the first running of the $100,000 Seattle Slew, which drew a field of five.
Jose Ortiz will try to add the Belmont fall riding title to his list of accomplishments in 2016, which include his first riding titles at Saratoga and Belmont’s spring-summer meet as well as the Aqueduct winter and spring riding titles.
However, both he and his brother Irad Ortiz Jr. will be serving careless-riding suspensions to start the meet. Jose Ortiz will make his Belmont debut next Wednesday, Irad on Sept. 16.
Chad Brown won his first Saratoga training title with a meet-record 40 victories. He will be looking for his fifth straight Belmont fall title, though he has just one runner, Ava’s Kitten, on Friday’s opening-day card.
Brown is expected to run his top male turf horse, Flintshire, in the Joe Hirsch and at least two of his top turf fillies and mares, Sea Calisi and Lady Eli, in the Flower Bowl.
“You just hope your horses stay healthy,” Brown said Wednesday. “We obviously have a strong group of horses. We just hope they maintain their good form and their health as the big races approach.”