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Friday, September 09, 2005

Belmont Opens Today

- The Belmont fall meeting opens today, and in years that NYRA does not host the Breeders Cup there, it’s my least favorite portion of the New York racing calendar. Its status as a championship meeting has long been usurped by the Breeders Cup. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any quality racing. But as the meet goes on, the crowds, which are pretty small to start with, dwindle as the temperature drops. Belmont is mostly open air, and there are few places to escape the breezes that shroud the grandstand in a persistent chill. As the autumn sun sinks lower behind the ample backyard trees, there are fewer and smaller circles of warming light on the grass where one can find some relief. As the crowds decrease, the field sizes seem to as well, and by the end, Belmont becomes a cold, bland and desolate reminder of a once promising summer long past, lingering like a Christmas tree on President’s Day. Or like Michael Brown at FEMA. Come mid-October, I for one not only look forward to the opening of Aqueduct, I earnestly anticipate it.

But this year we do have the Breeders Cup to add meaning and to culminate the meeting on a high. It’s also supposed to attract horses to New York for the prep races. But Saturday’s four Grade 1 races came up with short fields in three; only the Man o’War drew more than a half dozen (11).

The Gazelle is for 3 yo fillies at a mile and an eighth, and it drew only five runners despite the defection of Smuggler. Leave Me Alone, who dominated the 7 furlong Test with an astounding performance, seems to have this field at her mercy. She’s flown back and forth to California since then, but trainer Eric Kruljac, whose name sounds more like that of a rangy Swedish NHL defenseman than a horse conditioner, drew laughs when he said that "She loves to fly....She must be reincarnated from a stewardess." [Daily Racing Form] But reporters were later startled when they saw her pushing a refreshment cart down the shedrow.

Leave Me Alone does stretch out here, but the one turn 9 furlong distance at Belmont is more like a long sprint, and Leave Me Alone was showing no signs of tiring in the Test (and besides, she’s won around two turns) "When she came back to the winner's circle after the Test, I asked Kent (jockey Kent Desormeaux) how she was pulling up and he told me he had tons of horse left," Kruljac said. "If she shows up the way she did in the Test, I think she'll have no problem with the distance." [Bloodhorse] However, Leave Me Alone is not nominated to the Breeders Cup, and the prohibitive $400,000 entry fee (“she would have to run second just to break even”) means that the Gazelle will likely have no bearing on the BC Distaff.

That is, unless Yolanda B. Too successfully stretches out and steps up to stakes company from her impressive maiden/allowance wins for Richard Violette. She earned a 99 Beyer in her allowance win on a sloppy track which she figured to like with her 412 Tomlinson mud number. Her prior win in maiden company was flattered when Madame Diva came back to win by daylight. It’s a big step from NW1 to Grade 1, but let’s face it, if Leave Me Alone bounces, there ain’t much
Grade 1 material in here. In The Gold has run well at Belmont and may do so again here, though I don’t think the added distance favors her. She doesn’t seem to have much to offer at the finish and seems just a tad below Grade 1 material even against just 3 year olds, and would have to convince me otherwise with a breakout performance. California shipper Dancing Edie has run very well on the turf, getting third in the G1 Del Mar Oaks, but has a high Beyer of 67 in 4 dirt tries against Cal breds. And after Seeking the Ante won an allowance race at Saratoga after being thrashed in each of NYRA’s one-time filly triple crown races, I posted that hopefully her connections will keep her spotted in a more reasonable fashion. Guess the connections had other ideas, but they should have listened to me.

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