Handicapping the Top Jockeys and Trainers for the Spring Belmont at the Big A Meet

Belmont at the Big A, Eclipse Sportswire
Horses break from the starting gate at a Belmont at the Big A meet race in 2023. (Eclipse Sportswire)

With all the spring buzz in Thoroughbred racing focused on the Triple Crown, it can be easy to overlook that the new season at Belmont at the Big A is here. The 2024 Belmont at the Big A spring-summer meet opens May 2 and continues through closing day on Sunday, July 7. The meet will be among the season’s most important race meets for both horsemen and horseplayers.

With Belmont Park under reconstruction the next two years, the location of New York racing’s spring meet will move to Aqueduct (and Saratoga Race Course). Even at Aqueduct, however, the day-to-day quality of racing, purses, and significance of the meet will be at Belmont’s level – hence the moniker, “Belmont at the Big A.”

The 2024 Belmont at the Big A meet has been whittled down to just 31 race days at Aqueduct, featuring 32 stakes worth $6.625 million. Four race days, including Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets day and 24 of Belmont’s most important stakes have been moved to Saratoga this year to be run the weekend of June 6-9. Nevertheless, Belmont at the Big A will be this spring’s home of many of the country’s best jockeys, trainers, and horses. The meet will host the spring season’s best daily racing and wagering product to place it atop many handicappers’ simulcast menus.

Here is a look at the trainers and jockeys to look out for at the 2024 Belmont at the Big A meet:

Belmont at the Big A Leading Trainers

The top national barns will return to New York this season as well. Looking ahead to the Belmont at the Big A trainer’s race, it should be a battle between Linda Rice and Chad Brown. Brown won the corresponding Belmont meet’s trainer title in 2022 with 47 wins from 153 starters for 31%. Rice won the 2023 Belmont title with 34 wins from 140 starters for 24%.

Linda Rice, Kendrick Carmouche, Belmont at the Big A, Eclipse Sportswire
Linda Rice with jockey Kendrick Carmouche (Eclipse Sportswire)

Rice was Aqueduct’s leading trainer this past winter and Brown and Rice were clearly the top two trainers at Aqueduct’s April meet with Rice winning the training title over Brown 18 to 16. Brown had a much higher win percentage, however, with 36% wins versus 27% for Rice.

Todd Pletcher can keep pace with Brown and Rice in terms of winning percentage and is very likely to be this Belmont at the Big A meet’s third-leading trainer. Other top trainers who should finish in the star-studded meet’s top 10 include Christophe Clement, Mike Maker, Bill Mott, and Richard Dutrow.

Based on stats from relevant past meets, including last spring’s corresponding Belmont meet, several trends stand out for horseplayers. Brown, Clement, and Pletcher are best bets on the turf, and Clement and Rice are standouts in turf sprints. On the main track, Linda Rice should win the most dirt races, with Pletcher perhaps set to challenge in that category.

Pletcher is also expected to excel in 2-year-old races along with Rice and the often-overlooked George Weaver, who led last year’s Belmont spring meet with four winning juveniles. Behind Weaver, the other trainers with 2-year-old wins at last year’s meet included Pletcher (2), Maker (2), Wesley Ward (2), Rice (1), Mott (1), Rudy Rodriguez (1), Tom Morley (1), and Robert Falcone (1).

Top Jockeys at Belmont at the Big A

Irad Ortiz Jr., Eclipse Sportswire, Belmont at the Big A
Irad Ortiz Jr. should be formidable at the meet. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Nationally prominent top riders will be returning to New York full time for the Belmont at the Big A meet. For handicappers, that means perennial favorite Irad Ortiz Jr. is very likely to lead the way in the standings over a star-studded group that will include Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario, John Velazquez, Junior Alvarado, and Flavien Prat. They will join local standouts like Jose Lezcano, Manny Franco, Dylan Davis, and Kendrick Carmouche to form the bulk of the top 10 in the spring-summer jockey standings.

At last year’s Belmont spring meet, Irad Ortiz Jr. was narrowly edged by brother Jose Ortiz, 59 wins to 58, for the riding title. Jose Ortiz has relocated to Churchill Downs this spring and will not be riding at Aqueduct this season, leaving Irad to rule the roost. Last year, it was a long way back to Franco in third with 31 wins.

Irad Ortiz had a big edge amongst regular riders in terms of winning percentage at 27% and was by far the leading turf rider at last year’s corresponding Belmont Park meet with turf 28 wins. The only returning jockeys remotely close to Irad in terms of turf winners were Franco with 19 wins and Prat with 18 wins. Rosario and Carmouche had fewer turf mounts, but both won at a respectable 14% on the grass. On the flip side, both Prat and Carmouche won only six dirt races apiece at the entire meet.

Focusing on dirt races, with Jose Ortiz absent at this year’s meet, you can also expect Irad Ortiz to be clearly the leading rider on the dirt. The other jockey you want to focus on in Belmont at the Big A dirt races is Lezcano, who was 11-for-48 (23%) at the corresponding meet last year, including 3-for-6 in 2-year-old races.

At New York’s recently concluded April spring meet at Aqueduct, the runaway leading rider was Franco with 28 wins, with Davis (20 wins) and Lezcano (18 wins) second and third. Carmouche also enjoyed a strong meet with 15 winners. The breakout jockey of the Aqueduct April meet was Romero Maragh, who was 9-for-46 for 20%.

The standings of the Belmont at the Big A meet will look a lot different than at the recent Aqueduct meet thanks to the return of jockeys like Irad Ortiz, Prat, Castellano, and others mentioned above, but don’t forget about the New York-based riders such as Franco, Davis, Carmouche, Maragh, and Lezcano, who can be expected to continue to win their fair share of races throughout the coming season.

Enjoy the annual renaissance of New York racing with racing this season at the Belmont at the Big A meet!

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