The New York Racing Association released its stakes schedule Dec. 26 for the 2015 spring/summer meet at Belmont Park, featuring 60 stakes races worth $18.55 million throughout the course of the 59-day meet. The schedule includes six grade I stakes on Belmont Stakes day.
The centerpiece of the meet will be the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, expanded to three days and anchored by the 147th running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 6.
The 1 1/2 mile Belmont will be supported by a blockbuster card that includes five other grade I races: the $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap at a mile; the $1 million Manhattan at 1 1/4 miles on turf; the $1 million Ogden Phipps for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up at 1 1/16 miles; the $750,000 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies; and the $700,000 Longines Just a Game at a mile for turf fillies and mares, 4-years-old and up.
Also that day will be the $500,000 Woody Stephens (gr. II) for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs; the $400,000 Brooklyn Invitational (gr. II) for 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/2 miles; the $300,000 Jaipur Invitational (gr. IIIT) for turf sprinters 4-years-old and up; and the $150,000, 1 1/16-mile Easy Goer for sophomores.
With the Belmont Stakes draw scheduled June 3 at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, an abbreviated week will kick off the following day. Headlining that card are the $150,000 Intercontinental for turf fillies and mares going seven furlongs, and an enhanced edition of the 5 1/2-furlong Astoria for 2-year-old fillies, which boasts a purse of $250,000.
On June 5, the festival continues with five stakes races worth $1.2 million, including the $300,000 New York (gr. IIT) for turf fillies and mares going 1 1/4 miles, and the $250,000 True North (gr. II) at six furlongs for 4-year-olds and up. Supporting the graded stakes are the $250,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational for 4-year-olds and up at two miles on the turf, the $150,000 Jersey Girl for 3-year-old filly sprinters, and the Astoria's twin race, the 5 1/2-furlong Tremont for juveniles, also with a purse of $250,000.
"We are building our 2-year-old program out in a different direction and are pleased to offer the Tremont and Astoria as part of the new Belmont Stakes Racing Festival," said Martin Panza, NYRA senior vice president of racing operations, in a statement. "With the increase in purses, these are the two strongest juvenile races in the country in this time frame."
The second big event of the Belmont spring/summer meet will be the return of the Stars & Stripes Festival July 4. Launched in 2014, the day will again feature a pair of prestigious grade I turf races for 3-year-olds, the $1.25 million Belmont Derby and the $1 million Belmont Oaks for fillies, both at 1 1/4 miles.
"We're very proud of the inaugural Stars and Stripes Day as several of the participants went on to prominent seasons, including Adelaide, who later won the grade I Secretariat and Australia's Cox Plate (Aus-I) for trainer Aidan O'Brien, and Toast of New York, who was runner-up in both the grade I Pacific Classic and grade I Breeders' Cup Classic," said Panza. "We are confident this year's festival will be even bigger and better."
Joining the $400,000 Belmont Sprint Championship (gr. III) on the Stars & Stripes card this year will be the $150,000 Victory Ride for 3-year-old fillies going 6 1/2 furlongs, and the $500,000 Dwyer (gr. III) for 3-year-olds, which in addition to gaining a purse boost has been shortened to a one-turn mile.
"Heading into the second half of the year, there were no mile races for 3-year-olds," said Panza. "The addition of this race can only serve to strengthen our Stars and Stripes Day card."
The stakes offerings begin on Belmont Park's opening day April 29, with the $100,000 Elusive Quality for 4-year-olds and up going seven furlongs on the turf.