06/03/2010 9:50PM



I've just finished my first tour though the Belmont Day card and the word that keeps coming to mind is "schizophrenic."

The heart of the card, the Belmont Stakes and the Grade 1 and 2 stakes preceding it, is as good as it gets. The $1 million guaranteed pick-4 comprising the True North, Acorn, Manhattan and Belmont has highly competitive and intriguing fields numbering 10, 13, 11 and 12. Hard-hitting sprinters, 3-year-old fillies in the first leg of the Triple Tiara, champion Gio Ponti trying to resume his winning ways, and the final leg of the Triple Crown. Great stuff:

But I've never seen a race like Saturday's first of 13 on a Belmont Stakes card: statebred conditioned claimers, all of them running for a $15,000 tag, all of them 1-for-something, a combined 11 for 102. The 2nd is also for statebreds, this time maidens, all eight of them. Three nice open maiden and allowance races follow, then the six stakes. After the Belmont, there's another non-winners-of-two conditioned claimer and the third statebred race of the day, a turf sprint.

It's not as if NYRA scrapped a bunch of better races, or that racing secretary P. J. Campo didn't knock himself out trying to put together the best possible card. The sad reality is that it is now impossible to run a 13-race card in New York-- even once a year on its biggest day --  without resorting to multiple statebred and conditioned-claiming races -- something neither Churchill Downs nor Pimlico had to do to fill 25 races on Oaks and Derby Day and 26 races on Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness Day.

It's a very playable card, especially in the middle, and many of the once-a-year attendees won't know or care that the first two and last two races on the card are the kind you'd have never seen on a Belmont Stakes card not that long ago.