09/04/2012 11:21AM

Belmont Fall Meet, and Labor Day Weekend Thoughts


I like the Belmont Park fall meeting, which opens Saturday, almost as much as I like Saratoga. But I also think it’s time to reconsider calling it the “Fall Championship Meeting” when “Championship Day or Two” would be far more appropriate.

Belmont’s fall meet has 37 racing days, and nine of the 31 stakes that are scheduled for the session are Grade 1 events, most with tremendous prestige. But eight of these nine Grade 1 races will be run on two days – five on what is rightfully billed as Super Saturday on Sept. 29 with the Jockey Club Gold Cup leading the way, and three others the following Saturday, Oct. 6.  Two of the eight weekends at Belmont have stakes no higher than Grade 3, and one weekend has no graded stakes at all.

Of course, the big reason for concentrating Belmont’s fall Grade 1 races the way they are is so that they remain relevant as Breeders’ Cup preps. And that is not just slightly galling when you consider what the Belmont fall meet sacrificed (more than any other track) to help establish the Breeders’ Cup, and when you consider the Breeders’ Cup’s treatment of New York racing in recent years, even if they finally now have some cause.

But if Belmont fall races such as the Gold Cup, Beldame, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, Flower Bowl, Champagne, and Frizette aren’t the certified champion makers they were before the Breeders’ Cup, they are still very much championship-type events. Just look at all the champions who won these races recently. It’s just that these races, run over two days, do not a 37-day championship meet make.

There was an undeniable Breeders’ Cup feel to many of the stakes run over Labor Day Weekend. Let’s take a look back at few of them:

There has been a lot of talk about how To Honor and Serve could have been disqualified and placed second for floating Mucho Macho Man out three or four paths in deep stretch of the Woodward (the stewards didn’t even post an inquiry). First, let me say that I think Mucho Macho Man was best, not because of this, but because he missed his break and ran the first seven of the Woodward’s nine furlongs near the dead rail. But those who are complaining about To Honor and Serve not coming down shouldn’t throw stones, because Mucho Macho Man should have been disqualified. In a desperate search for racing room at the top of the stretch, Mucho Macho Man came out and bumped Trickmeister, and knocked Trickmeister into Stay Thirsty, putting Stay Thirsty momentarily off stride. This was far worse of an infraction than anything To Honor and Serve did.

There are three ways to look at Executiveprivilege’s desperate nose victory in the Del Mar Debutante: She’s been overrated, contemporaries have already caught up to her, or she needed a wake-up call and will be a much tougher customer going forward. Right now, I buy into the last viewpoint.

So Many Ways improved off her Schuylerville win when she took the Spinaway, but I’m still not sold because she got a tremendous set up in the Spinaway.

I like Shanghai Bobby, and I loved the way he rated early in his decisive Hopeful score, especially after he engaged in and survived a fierce pace battle to win the Track Barron in his previous start. But I’m not certain he beat a lot in the Hopeful. And I find Hopeful runner up Fortify’s early profile be uncannily similar to Alpha’s.

Potesta is a freak, as she showed in her track record win in the Torrey Pines. It’s just a shame we couldn’t get to see her and Questing battle in a 3-year-old race without older opponents to confuse the issue, and affect race dynamics.

Emcee looked very good winning the Forego, but I’m not going overboard yet. Emcee was out in the better part of the track, and when Shackleford was scratched, and Jackson Bend showed he wasn’t anywhere close to being himself, Emcee had little left to beat.

I’m also taking a wait-and-see approach with Dominus after his successful turf debut in the Bernard Baruch. Although Dominus has a license to be a good turf horse, he also walked on the lead. And for that reason, I won’t hold Data Link’s second place finish against him.