Led by grade I winner Haynesfield, eight New York-breds will go to post Oct. 22 for the 36th running of the $200,000 McMahon Adena Empire Classic, the centerpiece of New York Showcase Day at Belmont Park.
In addition to the Empire Classic, six other stakes for New York-breds worth $900,000 will be included on the Saturday card.
Turtle Bird Stable’s Haynesfield, who won the 2009 Empire Classic as a 3-year-old, is the 8-5 morning-line choice. After a disappointing start to his 2011 campaign, Haynesfield was given a 4 1/2-month break and will make his first start since a fifth-place finish in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I). In 2010, the son of Speightstown produced a 3-1-0 record from six starts, including a wire-to-wire upset of eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Blame in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I).
“He’s doing well and we are looking forward to getting him back to the races,” said Toby Sheets, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. “His last few works have been very good, and we excited about running him in this spot.”
Haynesfield has been no worse than third in six starts facing fellow state-breds; overall, he has won nine of his 17 races and earned more than $1.1 million.
Ramon Dominguez rides Haynesfield post 5.
Making an encore appearance in the Empire Classic is Icabad Crane, runner-up to Friend Or Foe in last year’s race. Seventh in the West Point at Saratoga in August, he was most recently victorious in the Evan Shipman at the Spa in July.
“We’ve planned on this race since Saratoga, and he runs well fresh,” said Graham Motion, who trains the 6-year-old gelded son of Jump Start for Earle Mack. “Last year, he stumbled out of the gate, but he ran a credible race, so it’s logical to come back again.”
Rajiv Maragh rides Icabad Crane (4-1).
Inherit the Gold, who went on a five-race winning streak at Aqueduct over the winter, including the Excelsior (gr. III) and the Kings Point, enters the 1 1/8-mile Empire Classic off a five-month layoff.
“After his last race (third in Belmont’s One Count overnight stakes on May 15) we took a little chip out of the outside of his right front ankle,” said James Hooper, who trains the 5-year-old gelded son of Gold Token for his wife, Susanne. “We brought him back to training at the end of August, and to date, he’s done everything perfectly. I’m super happy with the way he’s doing and I can’t wait for the race; it’s going to be great for Showcase Day.”
Named to ride Inherit the Gold, the second choice at 5-2 on the morning line, is John Velazquez.
$200,000 Empire Classic (Race 9, 5:18 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Bigger Is Bettor (NY), A Lezcano, 121, R A Ubillo
2. Green Monster (NY), A O Solis, 118, B R Brown
3. Johannesburg Smile (NY), J Castellano, 122, D G Galluscio
4. Haynesfield (NY), R A Dominguez, 120, S M Asmussen
5. Icabad Crane (NY), R Maragh, 122, H G Motion
6. Uncle Smokey (NY), J F Chavez, 115, L C Alvarez
7. Inherit the Gold (NY), J R Velazquez, 124, J Hooper
8. Mine Over Matter (NY), J Lezcano, 118, R M Hernandez