Five Key Takeaways from the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival

Jockey Jose Ortiz celebrates Tapwrit’s Belmont Stakes win in front of over 57,000 fans on June 10. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tom Pedulla presents five major takeaways from the 149thBelmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets on June 10, the final jewel of the Triple Crown, and takes a wider look at the successful three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, which included 14 other graded stakes.

Big Business

The scene on Belmont Stakes Day. (Eclipse Sportswire)

As much as traditionalists winced when the Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Handicap was shifted from Memorial Day to be part of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, New York Racing Association Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Martin Panza certainly has been vindicated in that decision. He assembled a compelling undercard that ensured two-fisted action despite the absence of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Preakness Stakes winners from the Belmont Stakes. The Racing Festival’s all-source handle totaled $124,740,193, besting last year’s hefty mark of $122,816,359. The paid attendance of 57,729 was another testament to the racing menu.

Wooing Japan

Even with the vet scratch of Japan-based Epicharis from the Belmont Stakes the morning of the race, the New York Racing Association is determined to do everything possible to attract horses from Japan to its top events. It was announced on Friday that a $1 million bonus will again be offered next year to any Japan-based horse that can win the Belmont Stakes. More bonuses for major races are in the offing. Given Epicharis’ absence, the handle of $4,698,525 in a separate, non-commingled pool in Japan has to be encouraging. There is every indication the racing world is growing smaller – a great development.

Four for Four

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert continues to amaze. His latest feat involved shipping four horses from his West Coast base and combining with ageless jockey Mike Smith to take significant stakes races, with all of his shippers as favorites. His tour de force was comprised of West Coast ($150,000 Easy Goer Stakes), Abel Tasman ($700,000 Grade 1 Acorn Stakes), American Anthem ($500,000 Grade 2 Woody Stephens Stakes) and Mor Spirit ($1.2 million Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap). At the least, Baffert showed he has ample horsepower after superstar Arrogate. And he sure knows what to do with it.

Sensational Songbird

Mike Smith and Songbird. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Songbird, making her 4-year-old debut, was as impressive as ever. Smith remained nothing more than a passenger who knew enough to stay out of her way when she prevailed by one length in the $750,000 Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes at a mile and a sixteenth. When Paid Up Subscriber ranged up inside of pace-setting Songbird and momentarily edged ahead, Songbird responded with a knockout blow in a race she clearly needed. A thrilling campaign awaits.

Pletcher’s third Belmont

Trainer Todd Pletcher built on an already impressive Belmont Stakes record when Tapwrit blossomed into his third Belmont Stakes winner after the filly Rags to Riches (2007) and Palace Malice (2013). His mark would be sensational if Commissioner had not fallen a head short against Tonalist in 2014 and Destin had not been nosed out by Creator last year. Pletcher has five second-place finishes in all. His success says much about his training acumen, the home-course advantage he enjoys, and his willingness to give developing youngsters ample time between starts.

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