Mr. Speaker is one of the Americans taking on the international invaders in the Belmont Derby. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)
The New York Racing Association is on a pretty good roll these days.
A month ago, it unveiled a spectacular array of stakes on Belmont Stakes day and reaped the benefits of that move by generating a staggering total handle of slightly more than $150 million for the 13-race program.
Now on Saturday, NYRA has packaged another great day of racing with its new Stars and Stripes Day, highlighted by fireworks in form of the Suburban Handicap, Dwyer, Belmont Sprint Championship and two new and innovative invitational Grade 1 races.
The $1,250,000 Belmont Derby for males and the $1-million Belmont Oaks for fillies are both turf stakes for 3-year-olds and will showcase a division that rarely enjoys the spotlight. Existing in the shadow of the famed Triple Crown of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, turf stakes for 3-year-olds are about as fashionable as leisure suits. But the response to the two new Belmont stakes – especially from overseas – indicates they can be fertile ground for building new stars.
UAE Derby winner Toast of New York heads the roll call of foreigners in the Belmont Derby, a mile and a quarter grass stakes that is also expected to feature Gailo Chop, a winner of his last four races in France, Adelaide, a Group 3 winner from trainer Aidan O’Brien’s powerful barn, and Pornichet, who was third in a Group 1 race in France.
The Americans include Blue Grass Stakes winner Dance With Fate, who was sixth in the Kentucky Derby, Pennine Ridge winner Gala Award, Lexington winner Mr. Speaker, American Turf Stakes winner Global View, Bobby’s Kitten, Flamboyant, and Sheldon.
The Oaks attracted five hopefuls from overseas: Group 1 placed Xcellence, Group 3 winners Flying Jib and Goldy Espony, Eastern Belle and Wonderfully. The U.S. contingent lining up to face them features Sea Queen, who captured the Wonder Again, the undefeated Summer Solo, Minorette, My Conquestadory, Recepta, Room Service, and Rosalind, who was fourth in the Kentucky Oaks.
ROOM SERVICE AND ROSALIND ARE AIMING FOR A REMATCH AFTER THEIR ASHLAND DEAD-HEAT
The end result is a pair of outstanding stakes that give rise to an intriguing possibility. Is it time for 3-year-old turf racing to get prime time exposure?
At the current time there’s only one Eclipse Award for 3-year-old males and females and it almost always goes to a dirt star. A grass runner has yet to be named the champion 3-year-old male and on the distaff side only Wait a While (2006) was an acclaimed turf runner while others like Dance Smartly (1991) and Turkish Trousers (1971) had some success on grass.
But now with the arrival of the Belmont Derby and Oaks, and the presence of the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-old males during Arlington Park’s International Festival of Racing in August, there’s the potential to create a new Triple Crown and Eclipse Award category.
If Arlington adds a rich 3-year-old filly stakes to its August Festival, all that would be needed is a pair of stakes in September to complete the two Triple Crown series. Given the response to Belmont’s new races, it shouldn’t be hard to find a third track willing to join in an event that should generate a new wave of interest both here and overseas.
They will not draw crowds of 100,000 like the Triple Crown with the 36-year drought, but with the proper marketing and television exposure the Turf Triple Crown could grab the fascination of fans.
The idea behind races like the Belmont Derby and Oaks was to give New Yorkers a reason to come to the racetrack on the Fourth of the July weekend, but in the long run NYRA’s Stars and Stripes Day may one day lead to an exciting collection of races and the birth of some new stars to honor at year’s end – and what’s so wrong with that?