Brilliant performances, tight finishes, large fields and a celebrity
visit – or two – highlighted opening day at Belmont Park,
hinting at even bigger things to come over the course of the 56-day
The day began with an impromptu late morning flyover by the
decommissioned space shuttle Enterprise, which flew
past the track atop a 747 before landing at nearby John F. Kennedy International
Airport, and included a
visit from NBC Sports hockey analyst and racing fan Eddie Olczyk, a member of
the 1994 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers.
“There’s something about the prestige and the history of
this track,” said Olczyk. “Being able to come here as a fan and
being able to watch it on the simulcast back home in Chicago, I’ve been
known to get my feet wet every once in a while when Belmont is going, so I have
always had a great respect for the horse racing and the people and obviously
the track here at Belmont.”
With average daily purses at Belmont
expected to reach $620,000, a number of high-profile outfits have opened up
shop full-time in New York.
Dale Romans, Ian Wilkes, Graham Motion and Mike Maker are among those joining established
New York trainers Todd Pletcher, Bill Mott, Kiaran McLaughlin, Chad Brown, Linda Rice, Christophe
Clement, and Jim Bond.
“It’s fantastic to be back at Belmont,” said Bond, who won race 7
with Strolldownbroadway ($4.70). “We have nice stock, and we’re
excited about the purses. New faces, new riders, it really is a lot of fun.
Everyone is excited. We’re going to have quality racing, but that’s
what the game is. We want to have the best racing, and we’ve always had
the best racing in New York.
This is going to make it even tougher. The strong are going to survive, but
that’s the way the game should be.”
Traditionally deep, the riding colony at Belmont
is expected to become even more competitive this spring with newcomers such as
two-time Eclipse winner Julien Leparoux and Rosie Napravnik riding full-time in
New York. The
battle for leading rider got off to a contentious start, with Cornelio Velasquez,
who won the recently concluded spring meet at Aqueduct Racetrack, taking the
first two races aboard Modern Child ($15.20) and Crepuscolo ($6.50) and Junior
Alvarado taking race 3 with Unstoppable U ($4.70) and race 8 aboard Silver Over
But Ramon Dominguez, the two-time defending Eclipse Award winner as the
nation’s top jockey and leading jockey on The New York Racing
Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit for the last three years, came right back to take
a one-race lead, winning race 5 with favored Street Thug ($6.10), race 7 for
Bond, and race 9 with Fourseventeen ($4.50).
“Between the great weather and racing at its best, I’m
always happy to be back at Belmont,”
said Dominguez, in the winner’s circle for the first time since returning
on April 6 from a separated collarbone. “The competition, before the
newcomers, was pretty difficult to begin with and with the addition of Julien
Leparoux and Anna Napravnik, along with Junior Alvarado being a full-timer,
it’s going to be definitely challenging.”
Racing continues at Belmont Park Saturday with the Grade 3, $150,000
Westchester, featuring a trio of Grade 1 winners; To Honor and Serve, Boys At Tosconova and
Jersey Town. The Westchester is the first of
35 stakes worth more than $9 million, topped by the 144th running of
the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 9.