The day began with an impromptu late morning flyover by the decommissioned space shuttle Enterprise, which flew past the track atop a 747 before landing at nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport, and included a visit from NBC Sports hockey analyst and racing fan Eddie Olczyk, a member of the 1994 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers.
With averag daily purses at Belmont expected to reach $620,000, a number of high-profile outfits have opened up shop full-time in New York. Dale Romans, Ian Wilkes, Graham Motion and Mike Maker are among those joining established New York trainers Todd Pletcher, Bill Mott, Kiaran McLaughlin, Chad Brown, Linda Rice, Christophe Clement, and Jim Bond.
“It’s fantastic to be back at Belmont,” said Bond, who won race 7 with Strolldownbroadway ($4.70). “We have nice stock, and we’re excited about the purses. New faces, new riders, it really is a lot of fun. Everyone is excited. We’re going to have quality racing, but that’s what the game is. We want to have the best racing, and we’ve always had the best racing in New York. This is going to make it even tougher. The strong are going to survive, but that’s the way the game should be.”
Traditionally deep, the riding colony at Belmont is expected to become even more competitive this spring with newcomers such as two-time Eclipse winner Julien Leparoux and Rosie Napravnik riding full-time in New York. The battle for leading rider got off to a contentious start, with Cornelio Velasquez, who won the recently concluded spring meet at Aqueduct Racetrack, taking the first two races aboard Modern Child ($15.20) and Crepuscolo ($6.50) and Junior Alvarado taking race 3 with Unstoppable U ($4.70) and race 8 aboard Silver Over Gold ($16.40).
But Ramon Dominguez, the two-time defending Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s top jockey and leading jockey on The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit for the last three years, came right back to take a one-race lead, winning race 5 with favored Street Thug ($6.10), race 7 for Bond, and race 9 with Fourseventeen ($4.50).
“Between the great weather and racing at its best, I’m always happy to be back at Belmont,” said Dominguez, in the winner’s circle for the first time since returning on April 6 from a separated collarbone. “The competition, before the newcomers, was pretty difficult to begin with and with the addition of Julien Leparoux and Anna Napravnik, along with Junior Alvarado being a full-timer, it’s going to be definitely challenging.”
Racing continues at Belmont Park Saturday with the Grade 3, $150,000 Westchester, featuring a trio of Grade 1 winners; To Honor and Serve, Boys At Tosconova and Jersey Town. The Westchester is the first of 35 stakes worth more than $9 million, topped by the 144th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 9.