With the 2016 spring meet officially wrapped and everything from the betting machines to the silverware headed up the Adirondack northway ’til the leaves start to turn, it’s time for a little Belmont Park appreciation as everyone spins their wheels waiting for Saratoga’s meet to kick on Friday July 22 (myself included). The star-studded 2016 spring may not have been as glorious as last year’s; with no Triple Crown on the line, it’s hard to top a Triple Crown-winning season, but nonetheless, there were some big highlights from the first half of the year at Belmont that will serve fans (and bettors of course) as great mementos!
1) Creator wins a thrilling edition of the Belmont Stakes – The hallmark of Belmont Park and the oldest jewel of the Triple Crown, the test of the champion is never not a cool race and it’s always been my favorite race of the Triple Crown. This year was the first year since 2013 that I did not attend the Belmont Stakes, instead electing to watch the action unfold as I recovered from a long work weekend at my day job. I had picked Creator as my Derby horse, so it was doubly rewarding to see Irad Ortiz Jr. bring it home in the waning moments of the 1 1/2 mile classic, making every stride count aboard the big Tapit colt. He looked good in white carnations, did he not? Props to Destin as well, who I included as my second pick for the race.
2) Off the Tracks ousts Rachel’s Valentina in the Mother Goose Stakes – I may be a bit partial here, having become a bit of a fan of both Rachel’s Valentina and Off the Tracks last summer at Saratoga. After a bruising losing streak on Belmont Stakes Day, I appreciated the small $5 Win/Place I had faithfully bestowed on Off the Tracks, who looked alarmingly good heading onto the track in what would be her first Grade 1 victory and a barnstormin’ one at that. Look at world, Off the Tracks is definitely the real deal!
3) Frosted runs HUGE in Met Mile – One of my favorite races at NYRA, the field for the Met Mile this year was just “ok” compared to prior years, with the Wood Memorial (I) winning Tapit colt Frosted coming back to New York following a decent showing in the Dubai World Cup (I). Everyone had heard he’d been training well, but nobody really expected what we saw from him that day. Roaring off the turn, announcer Larry Collmus got a little excited as we all watched Frosted annihilate the field by 14 1/4 lengths, posting the largest Thorograph figure EVER of -8 1/2. It was the must-watch replay of the day.
4) Catch a Glimpse shows her class in Belmont Oaks – Unbeaten on turf, it is almost asinine to recall how many doubters the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Filly (I) champ had rolling into Belmont Park for the Belmont Oaks (I), the chestnut beauty sharpened up after flogging the boys in the Penn Mile (III). Could she utilize her early speed to her advantage again, this time going ten furlongs and against a couple O’Brien-trained Europeans? The answer was a resounding YES as Catch a Glimpse set off on a comfortable early lead, then turned away classy Coolmore [IRE] at the top of the stretch while holding off an oncharging Time and Motion. It was arguably the performance of the meet on the grass and just another feather in the cap of Mark Casse’s hat this year.
5) Tom’s Ready fires career-maker win in Woody Stephens – Always a tough and contentious race year after year, the Grade 2 Woody Stephens drew in Derby Day stakes winner Sharp Azteca as well as the speedy Justin Squared in its 2016 running. So many factors would make the twelve-horse race a very tough race to sort out, with many horses in the field cutting back in distance or refocusing their energy after a great last-out race. Few in the crowd expected a loud performance from a twelfth-place Kentucky Derby finisher who hadn’t won since his maiden win last September, but the mighty Tom’s Ready came running when he was asked after being dead-last for much of the way. Making up ground in rapid fractions, I think he reminded everyone of his sire More Than Ready, a dark and handsome guy who shined at shorter distances. King’s Bishop next for you, Tom?
A special congratulations to the Chad Brown team, Jose Ortiz, and Michael Dubb on winning their respective titles at Belmont this meet. Best of luck to each as we roll into one of the world’s most prestigious race meets at Saratoga!
Top photo of Creator and Destin courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglianese