ELMONT, N.Y. – Martin Panza is still a big proponent of the big-day concept, stacking a large number of stakes on a single card. But when it comes to the fall, the New York Racing Association’s vice president of racing operations isn’t so sure it works as well as other times of the year. So, for the upcoming Belmont Park fall meet, which begins Friday, Panza has spread the wealth when it comes to the placement of several of the meet’s major events.
The two biggest Saturday cards of the 36-day meet will be Sept. 30, highlighted by the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and Oct. 7, topped by the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Each card will include four stakes. Last year, those corresponding days had five and seven stakes, respectively. In the two years prior to that, those cards had five and six stakes, respectively.
This year, Panza has taken some of stakes typically run on those Saturdays and moved them to Sundays. For instance, the Oct. 8 card will have the Grade 1 Flower Bowl and Grade 1 Frizette, two of six Win and You’re In races for the Breeders’ Cup that will be held at this meet.
“I think nationally the trend of the trainers is to come into the Breeders’ Cup eight, nine, 10 weeks out instead of four, five, six weeks out,” Panza said. “I think everyone’s preps are struggling to get any field size. The [reduced] foal crop certainly isn’t helping any, so we looked at it and said instead of running six five-horse fields or six-horse fields on Saturday, let’s break these up on Saturdays and Sundays. I think now we have three weekends of Breeders’ Cup preps and spaced them out over Saturdays and Sundays and give it a shot.”
In addition to the $500,000 Hirsch, the Sept. 30 card will include the Beldame, Vosburgh – both Grade 1’s – and the Grade 3 Pilgrim for 2-year-olds on turf. In addition to the Gold Cup, the Oct. 7 card will include the Grade 1 Champagne, Grade 3 Hill Prince, and the second running of the listed Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup had its purse cut from $1 million to $750,000. The race has been compromised by the emergence of the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for 3-year-olds, which will be run as a Grade 1 this year for the first time. Only six horses were entered in each of the last two Gold Cups and there hasn’t been a 3-year-old in the race since 2014.
The Grade 2 Kelso was moved off the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic card and will be run on Sept. 23 with a reduced purse of $300,000. The Grade 2 Sands Point for 3-year-old fillies on Sept. 16 had its purse cut from $500,000 to $400,000, while the Grade 3 Futurity and Grade 3 Matron, to be run Oct. 14 and 15, respectively, each had its purse cut by $50,000 to $150,000.
The annual New York Showcase Day card will be run on Oct. 21, featuring eight stakes restricted to New York-breds.
Belmont will run 42 stakes worth more than $10.15 million over the 36-day meet, which runs through Oct. 29. For the first two weeks of the meet, racing will be conducted Fridays through Sundays. Beginning Sept. 20, the schedule will revert to Wednesdays through Sundays.
Chad Brown has won outright or shared the Belmont Park fall trainer’s title the last five years. In 2016, he finished in a 30-30 tie with Rudy Rodriguez.
Irad Ortiz Jr. tied Javier Castellano atop the jockey standings at 48 last fall. Jose Ortiz, Saratoga’s leading rider, will be based at Belmont but will be making several visits to Kentucky Downs this month and Keeneland next month.
Due to lack of attendance, the second and third floors of the Belmont grandstand will be closed for the fall meet. All floors of the clubhouse will be open. Admission to all parts of building is $5.
First post most days will be 1:30 p.m. Eastern.