(from Belmont Park report)
Future Prospect and Haynesfield are the stars and Naughty New Yorker is the sentimental favorite, but contention will run deep Oct. 24 when 11 colts and geldings and one filly line up for the $250,000 Empire Classic at Belmont Park.
The 1 1/8-mile dirt race is the featured event of the annual New York Showcase Day program, which this year offers seven stakes races exclusively for New York-breds worth a total of $1 million.
With possibly heavy rain in the forecast, the two scheduled turf races on the card -- the $150,000 Mohawk Handicap, and the $150,000 Ticonderoga -- have been moved back a day for the final card of the Belmont Park Fall Championship Meet.
“It’s that time of year -- the New York-breds get to show off a little bit,” said trainer Pat Kelly, who sends out 7-year-old millionaire Naughty New Yorker for his fourth try at the Empire Classic. The 11-time stakes winner has a fourth and two sixth-place finishes in past editions of the race, but Kelly believes track conditions had something to do with the subpar efforts.
“Some of the worst races in his life are in that Classic,” he said. “They’ve got muddy next to them (in the past performance lines).”
Fox Ridge Farm’s Naughty New Yorker passed the million-dollar mark in earnings this summer, missing by a neck to Future Prospect in the Funny Cide Stakes at Saratoga. He followed that up with a dull last-place finish in the Jazzing Around on Sept. 26 at Belmont, his most recent start.
“I don’t know what happened the other day,” Kelly said. “He’s getting like Evening Attire: If he feels like doing it, he does it. If he doesn’t, he takes the day off.”
Lucille Davis’ Future Prospect is the hottest state-bred in New York. Trained by Michael Maker, the 5-year-old Freud gelding won the Funny Cide and Jazzing Around as a heavy favorite and has the speed and stamina to run away from the field.
“He’s had a phenomenal year, and I can’t say enough good things about him,” Maker said. “He had a few quirks about him. The first time he ran a route race (Feb. 28), he sat down in the gate. He has overcome a lot and has turned out to have a great year.”
Turtle Bird Stable has entered the 3-year-old Haynesfield, a son of Speightstown who was on the Triple Crown trail after three dominating stakes wins at Aqueduct in the spring. Trainer Steve Asmussen shut him down after a poor effort in the Gotham (gr. III), and now the colt will seek to build on his second-place finish in the Sir Keys Stakes on Oct. 2 at Belmont.
Tina Bond’s Ruffino has won four straight races heading into the Empire Classic for trainer James Bond. In his most recent start on Sept. 30, the 6-year-old Raffie's Majesty gelding scored by a head over Birdrun in a mile race at Belmont. Birdrun returned on Oct. 21 to set the 1 1/16-mile track record in 1:39.38.
“We didn’t think we’d be in this spot,” Bond said. “He’s had so many issues, I could write a dictionary and an encyclopedia about them. He’s doing very well now and we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
Majesty Stud’s Dr. V's Magic won the Classic in 2007 for trainer Dominic Galluscio, who has eight victories from 29 starters in the fall meet through Oct. 22. The 5-year-old had ankle chips removed at the end of his 2007 campaign and then missed most of 2008 battling colitis.
“I’m optimistic he’ll come up with a big effort,” Galluscio said.
Six-time stakes-winning filly Weathered, owned by Chevalier Stable, is also entered. Trained by Karl Grusmark, the 4-year-old will take on colts and geldings after winning the Belle Born Stakes on Sept. 24.
Completing the field are August Forever Stable’s Dr. D.F.C., Eric Brophy’s Slevin, Knight R.B. Stable’s Undocumented, Linda Fisher’s Typhoon Tycoon, Naipaul Chatterpaul’s Platinum Couple, and Tri County Stable’s Love Abroad.
Other stakes on the program are the $125,000 Hudson Handicap at six furlongs, the $125,000 Iroquois Handicap for fillies and mares going seven furlongs, the $100,000 Maid of the Mist for 2-year-old fillies at one mile, and the $100,000 Sleepy Hollow for 2-year-olds, also at one mile.
$250,000 Empire Classic Stakes (Race 10, 5:40 p.m.), 3 & Up Foaled in New York, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Dr. D. F. C. (NY), E Castro, 118, R A Ubillo
2. Slevin (NY), J Castellano, 115, C J Domino
3. Undocumented (NY), M Studart, 120, N Chatterpaul
4. Weathered (NY), M J Luzzi, 121, K M Grusmark
5. Haynesfield (NY), R A Dominguez, 121, S M Asmussen
6. Future Prospect (NY), R Maragh, 124, M J Maker
7. Typhoon Tycoon (NY), R D Fuentes, 118, L Fisher
8. Platinum Couple (NY), T Chang, 118, N Chatterpaul
9. Dr. V's Magic (NY), C H Velasquez, 122, D G Galluscio
10. Ruffino (NY), J R Velazquez, 118, H J Bond
11. Naughty New Yorker (NY), E S Prado, 120, P J Kelly
12. Love Abroad (NY), J Lezcano, 118, J O Hertler
Blinkers On: Platinum Couple