Belmont Opens Saturday



A trio of Grade 1 winners highlights the 11-horse contingent in the opening-day feature at Belmont Park, the $150,000 Bowling Green H. (G2).

GRAND COUTURIER (GB) (Grand Lodge), who fell short in his quest to win the August 14 Sword Dancer Invitational (G1) for a third time, will seek to reach the winner’s circle for the first time since taking the 2009 Bowling Green, but given his lackadaisical form of late figures to be a price in the inner turf contest. More likely to draw most of the public’s financial affections is WINCHESTER (Theatrical [Ire]), who stunned stablemate and champion Gio Ponti (Tale of the Cat) in the 10-furlong Manhattan H. (G1) over this course in June. The Christophe Clement trainee has raced only once in the interim, running two lengths third in the United Nations S. (G1) on July 3 over the tighter Monmouth Park configuration.

Several of the veterans entered in the Bowling Green are in the midst of severe stakes droughts. AL KHALI (Medaglia d’Oro), most recently third in the Sword Dancer, last won an added-money event a year ago in the Saranac S. (G3) at Saratoga. STRIKE A DEAL’s (Smart Strike) upset victory in the May 15 Dixie S. (G2) was both preceded and followed by three defeats by significant margins, while INTERPATATION (Langfuhr) has dropped five straight since his improbable upset over Gio Ponti in last October’s Joe Hirsch.

JEUNE-TURC (Brz) (Know Heights [Ire]), a Group 1 winner and champion in Brazil, placed in South America’s most prestigious event, the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini (Arg-G1), in December, but was a non-threatening eighth in the United Nations, his U.S. debut, for trainer Paulo Lobo. Two whose chances would improve should the Bowling Green be switched to the main track due to inclement weather are DRY MARTINI (Slew Gin Fizz), winless since the 2009 Suburban H. (G2), and GABRIEL’S HILL (A.P. Indy), who missed winning the Brooklyn H. (G2) by a nose in June.

Offering 19 graded stakes in virtually every division, Belmont Park will be the proving grounds for Breeders’ Cup hopefuls when it opens for its 37-day Fall Championship Meet on Saturday.

The Fall Championship Meet’s stellar Grade 1 schedule is highlighted by the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup for older horses at 1 1/4 miles on October 2, a race expected to include Horse of the Year candidate Blame (Arch). That race is but one of five Grade 1 events on Super Saturday, which also features the $350,000 Beldame S. for fillies and mares, the $350,000 Vosburgh S. for sprinters, the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational and the $500,000 Flower Bowl Invitational for fillies and mares on the turf.

The stellar weekend continues on October 3 with the $250,000 Kelso H. (G2) at one mile, the $150,000 Pilgrim S. (G3) for juveniles on the turf and the $150,000 Miss Grillo S. (G3) for two-year-old fillies on the turf. Both juvenile races are part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, in which the winners earn an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G2) or Juvenile Fillies Turf (G2).

The following weekend offers more tremendous racing, with two-year-olds taking center stage again in the 140th running of the $300,000 Champagne S. (G1) and the 63rd running of the $300,000 Frizette S. (G1) for fillies, along with the $250,000 Jamaica H. (G1) for three-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles on the turf.

Other races with potential Breeders’ Cup implications include the $250,000 Garden City S. (G1) for three-year-old fillies at nine furlongs on the turf, scheduled for September 18, and the $150,000 Gallant Bloom H. (G2), a 6 1/2-furlong dash for fillies on mares on September 25.

New York-breds get their chance to shine on New York Showcase Day, October 23, with seven stakes for the top horses bred in the Empire State, capped by the $200,000 Empire Classic.