10/20/2011 3:25PM

Belmont: Haynesfield tries to salvage season in Empire Classic


ELMONT, N.Y. – The improvement in the New York breeding program is such that even though none of the three statebreds that has won Grade 1 races this year are participating, Saturday’s New York Showcase Day program at Belmont Park consists of 10 races with deep, competitive fields of talented horses.

With Grade 1 winners Giant Ryan and Weemissfrankie pointing to Breeders’ Cup races and Manhattan winner Mission Approved headed to the Japan Cup, there are still plenty of stakes winners sprinkled throughout the seven stakes races on the card.

Haynesfield, the cream of the New York-bred crop in 2010, tries to salvage a disappointing 2011 by returning to statebred competition in the $200,000 Empire Classic, the highlight event on New York Showcase Day, which is believed to have held its first running in 1994.

Haynesfield, who won this race in 2009 and won the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2010, is returning from a five-month layoff precipitated by foot issues which have plagued him through his career. He meets a field that includes open company stakes winner Inherit the Gold, multiple statebred stakes winner Icabad Crane, and the improving Johannesburg Smile.

Dominic Galluscio, who trains Johannesburg Smile, has won the Empire Classic twice with siblings Organizer in 2006 and Dr. V’s Magic in 2007. In Johannesburg Smile, Galluscio sends out a horse who has won his last two starts and is 3-for-7 lifetime at Belmont Park.

“Some horses in the race look like they’ve accomplished more than he has, but he looks to be the one in the sharpest form right now,” said Galluscio, who is a healthy 8 for 33 at this meet. “I think he’s hitting his peak. I think if you’re fortunate enough to keep one sound at this age they always get better.”

Johannesburg Smile is likely to be forwardly placed in the Empire Classic, but has shown more willingness to relax now than in the past, Galluscio said. Javier Castellano rides Johannesburg Smile from post 3.

Trainer Graham Motion is following a similar path with Icabad Crane that almost worked last year when the horse finished second in the Empire Classic after a disastrous start. In the race before, Icabad Crane ran third in the West Point on turf before getting two months off and running in the Empire Classic.

“He ran so well in it the previous year, it seemed logical,” Motion said, referring to the West Point. “It just works out timing-wise.”

Motion said last year’s Empire Classic was one of the best races Icabad Crane has run. “It’s good to know that he likes the one-turn mile and an eighth because it’s so unique.”

Haynesfield has always run well at Belmont and though he has not run since finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont on May 30, his training regiment has been brisk. Toby Sheets, who oversee the training of Haynesfield for trainer Steve Asmussen, said he feels the horse has had enough breezes to be ready for this.

“He had two three-quarters, two seven-eighths, and has been training very forward,” Sheets said. “We’re going to find out on Saturday but I feel we’re pretty fit.”

Inherit the Gold won five consecutive races from Dec. 16 through April 2 including the Excelsior at Aqueduct. He is attempting to come back from a five-month layoff and after having surgery to remove a chip out of his knee.

Trainer and part-owner Jim Hooper doesn’t believe he is bringing a short horse to the race.

“I think I have enough miles in him to get the mile and an eighth,” Hooper said. “If I didn’t I wouldn’t put him in there.”

Bigger Is Bettor, who won the Albany at Saratoga at 26-1 is coupled with Mine over Matter because both are owned by Chester and Mary Broman, who have seven horses entered on the program.

Uncle Smokey and Green Monkey complete the field.

In the other stakes:

◗ Compliance Officer, claimed for $25,000 in May, seeks his fifth consecutive victory and third stakes victory in the $125,000 Mohawk, which has been shortened from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/16 miles on turf. Defending Mohawk winner Pocket Cowboys, and open-company stakes winners Straight Story, Adirondack Summer, and Lubash head the competition.

◗ General Maximus, the 2010 Hudson winner, takes on Driven by Success, the 2009 Hudson winner, in this year’s renewal of the $125,000 Hudson at six furlongs. The razor-sharp Pretty Boy Freud, Mike Lee Stakes winner Preachintothedevil, and the speedy Dr Disco are among the other contenders.

◗ Hessonite, one of two 3-year-old fillies in the field and runner-up in the Pebbles Stakes 12 days ago, takes on the multiple stakes winner Gitchee Goomie in the $125,000 Ticonderoga for fillies and mares on the turf.

◗ Lovely Lil, who finished third in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom on Sept. 24, returns to face New York-bred competition in the $125,000 Iroquois for fillies and mares at seven furlongs. Sentimental Lass, who won the Maid of the Mist on this day last year, the improving Risky Rachel, and Spa City Princess have the best chance to upset.

◗ Wildcat’s Smile, a half-sister to Johannesburg Smile, returns to face her own sex after beating males in the Breeders’ Futurity, when she meets 10 rivals in the $100,000 Joseph Gimma for 2-year-old fillies. Shotgun Pennie, who beat Wildcat’s Smile in the Lady Finger at Finger Lakes, the well-bred Newbie, and the stakes winning Harbor Mist are others with a chance.

◗ The Prize Fighter heads a four-horse entry from Flying Zee Stables in the $100,000 Bertram Bongard Stakes for 2-year-old males. His entrymates are Night Maneuver, who is 2 for 2, Western Tryst, and Goodtime Boy.

Bay Park Boy, Ganador, and the highly-regarded maiden Jaw Crusher head the competition.

◗ In addition to the races, Belmont will celebrate products made in New York state with food, wine, and crafts from vendors located on the first floor of the clubhouse and grandstand.