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New Connections Flock to Belmont Park

Throughout the decades, Belmont Park has boasted a deep riding colony and has attracted many of the sport’s leading trainers.  With daily purses expected to average $620,000, the competition will be tougher than ever during the meet that begins April 27 and concludes July 15.


Trainer Dale Romans, who has never had more than 10 horses at Belmont in the spring, will personally oversee 38 head this year.


“New York is heading back to the head of the class,” said Romans, who through Friday has won nine races from 69 starters this year at Aqueduct. “It’s the best jurisdiction for racing. This is the first time in the spring that we’re going to have a full-time stable. I’m renting a house across the street from the track, and I’m looking forward to it.”


Jockeys Julien Leparoux, Rosie Napravnik, and Junior Alvarado will ride full-time at Belmont for the first time, and they’ll face off against Eclipse Award winners Ramon Dominguez, Edgar Prado, and John Velazquez. The talented jockey colony also includes Javier Castellano, Eddie Castro, David Cohen, Alan Garcia, Jose Lezcano, Rajiv Maragh, Corey Nakatani, Alex Solis, and Cornelio Velasquez.


Leparoux, named the 2009 Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Jockey and a regular at Saratoga Race Course, will ride in New York full-time beginning with the Belmont meet. In New York, Leparoux has earned Grade 1 victories in the 2008 and 2009 Diana (Forever Together), 2009 Personal Ensign (Icon Project), 2009 Flower Bowl Invitational (Pure Clan), and 2010 Carter (Warrior’s Reward).


“He’s ready for a different challenge,” Leparoux’s longtime agent Steve Bass said in February. “We were looking for a place where we could go and basically stay year-round – not have to pack up and move every few months. The purses don’t hurt, either.”


Napravnik, leading jockey at the Fair Grounds the past two years and at Delaware Park in 2010, has returned to New York to compete regularly for the first time since she successfully wintered at Aqueduct in 2008-09 and 2009-10.


“I’m really looking forward to joining this riding colony full time,” said Napravnik. “I got my feet wet a couple of winters ago, so I’ve gotten to know a lot of the trainers and ride for a lot of them and win races for many of them. [The racing] is going to be unbelievable, like nowhere else.”


Alvarado, winner of the 2009 riding title at Arlington Park, has competed at Aqueduct the past two winters, respectively finishing fifth and third in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 inner track jockey standings. This year, he’ll ride in New York year-round instead of returning to Arlington.


“I did pretty well last year in the winter, but it was getting really tough so I decided to go back to Chicago,” said Alvarado. “I have a great agent [Mike Sellito], though, so I know I’ll be riding for good trainers this year. That’s why we’re going to take a chance and stay here. It’s going to be tough, but it’s going to be tough for everybody.”


The list of trainers who for the first time will have a string in New York for the duration of the Belmont spring/summer meet includes H. Graham Motion, Ralph Nicks, Tom Proctor, Michael Trombetta, and Ian Wilkes.


“With the way things are and with the purses being so good, we decided we wanted to work in New York a little bit more,” said Trombetta, who will have six stalls at Belmont. “If we have the right horses to run in New York, then we’ll want to have the opportunity to run them. We run quite a bit in New York from the Fair Hill training center, but we thought there’d be some benefit to having stalls in New York. A lot of horses can van 4-5 hours and run just fine, but some run better if they get there a day or two early, and this will help us with that.”


In addition, the list of out-of-state horsemen who will be prominent at Belmont includes Bob Hess, Jr., Eddie Kenneally, Steve Klesaris, Mike Maker, Ken McPeek, and Michelle Nihei.




What the Nation is saying about New Connections Flock to Belmont Park...

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