Who said the racing year ended after the Triple Crown trophy was put back into mothballs?
The biggest races of the Belmont Fall meet are on tap on a day dubbed as Super Saturday by the New York Racing Association, comprising six consecutive graded stakes. Not only is top flight stakes racing in store on Long Island today, but a star-studded lineup of Breeders' Cup hopefuls will entertain the racing set at expansive Belmont Park.
Five Grade 1 races worth $3 million are on tap, the feature event being the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup that has attracted 10 older horses, including six Grade 1 winners. The Super Saturday races serve as key prep races leading up to the Breeders' Cup championships.
All six graded races are Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" races that automatically earn the winners a spot in the gate during the championship race weekend at Santa Anita on Nov. 2 and 3. Last year, Super Saturday produced the two biggest Breeders' Cup champions in Drosselmeyer (Classic) and Royal Delta (Ladies' Classic).
The Grade 1 Beldame will feature a fifth meeting between the even-money morning line favorite Royal Delta and It's Tricky (7-5), last year's 1-2 finishers in the Ladies' Classic. Royal Delta has won two of the head-to-head matchups and It's Tricky won last year's Coaching Club at Saratoga. In their last meeting, they were both upset by the Todd Pletcher-trained Love and Dance in the Personal Ensign at the Spa.
Let's take a capsule look at the all graded stakes $500,000 guaranteed late Pick 4 starting with Race 7:
*The Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational Stakes. The $400,000 Vosburgh is a 6-furlong sprint that has attracted 10 sprinters, looking for a guaranteed spot in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. The evenly matched Vosburgh has seven horses between 3-1 and 6-1 on the morning line odds. Fort Loudon is undefeated in five tries at the distance and if his odds stay around the morning line of 6-1, I will be making an ATM stop. Corey Nakatani has the ride for Nick Zito.
The morning line favorite Justin Phillip (3-1) is proven at the distance and has New York rider Ramon Dominguez in the irons. He'll move up to the top spot if an off-track emerges. Sean Avery (the horse, not the hockey player) will be making his second start of 2012 in the Vosburgh, having come off a 13-month break to win an overnight stakes earlier in the month at Belmont. Post Time Outlook: 1 – Fort Loudon, 2 – Justin Phillip, 3 – Sean Avery.
*The Grade 1 Flower Bowl International. The $600,000 Flower Bowl is a 1 1/4 -mile turf race that has eight entries, including the European invader, Nahrain (5-1), second place finisher in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf race. Hall of Famer John Velazquez will be aboard the 4-year-old filly's second career race in the States.
Chad Brown will attempt to win the Flower Bowl for the second straight year with one of his two entries, both with solid chances at winning the race. Race favorite Dream Peace (5-2) will be making her second start in the U.S. for Brown after finishing a length and a half behind the now retired star Winter Memories in the Diana at Saratoga. Brown will also send out Zagora (7-2) with Dominguez in the saddle, which is enough for me. We'll be going fairly deep here in the Pick-4, which will also include I'm A Dreamer (3-1), the Beverly D champion on Arlington Million day. Post Time Outlook: 1 – Zagora, 2 – Dream Peace, 3 – Nahrain.
*The Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational. Named after the legendary turf writer, the Turf Classic only drew six entries to go 1 1/2 miles on the Belmont Widener Turf Course. This could be the race to single in Pick-4 plays as Point of Entry (4-5) looms as the horse to beat. Arlington Million upset winner Little Mike (2-1) appears to be the main challenger, but has never run the mile-and-a-half distance. Javier Castellano rides Kindergarten Kid, and he excels as a turf rider and his mount has been working sharply of late. Post Time Outlook: 1 – Point of Entry, 2 – Little Mike, 3 – Kindergarten Kid.
*Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. This year's purse was increased by $250,000 to $1 million and has only enticed one 3-year-old, Belmont stakes third place finisher Atigun. The other 3-year-olds followed easier money to the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby last weekend, so the majority of the Gold Cup field is made up of older horses.
Ron The Greek (5-2) will try and add to his impressive resume that already includes two major Grade 1 races, the Santa Anita Handicap and the Stephen Foster. He'll attempt to sweep these three races after coming up short in the Whitney to Fort Larned (7-2). Trainer Bill Mott hopes that the pace of the race doesn't compromise his colt's chances. "With any sort of honest pace in the race, Ron the Greek is a deep closer," said Mott. "Given the extra eighth of a mile, that should help him sustain his run."
The Whitney winner has had a successful 2012 campaign, only faltering in the Foster, finishing either first or second in six stakes races during this year. The Ian Wilkes-trained 4-year-old will look to win his third straight and sports a perfect one-for-one record at the classic mile-and-a-quarter distance.
"I couldn't be happier with the way he's coming into the race, and I don't think the distance will be a concern," said Wilkes of Fort Larned. "These races are never easy, and there are some very good horses in there. "
Mott doesn't discount his chances to repeat Flat Out's 2011 Gold Cup win. "Flat Out has had a fair amount of time to get over the Whitney. We've had a nice training schedule since then, and obviously he's run well on the track before [winning the Grade 2 Suburban in 2011]. I mean, that's got to be a bonus anytime you've got one running on any particular track, if they've already been a dual winner there." Post Time Outlook: 1 – Ron The Greek, 2 – Fort Larned, 3 – Flat Out, 4 – Atigun.
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.