04/25/2012 3:06PM

Belmont Park: Big money lures new outfits for spring-summer meet

Tom Keyser
Steve Asmussen is among those hoping to take advantage of the huge purses and bonuses for juvenile stakes at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. – The allure of big money, the arrival of several new outfits, and an all-star jockey colony have heightened the enthusiasm for the Belmont Park spring/summer meeting, which kicks off its 56-day run Friday.

Fueled by revenue from the Aqueduct casino, average daily purses at Belmont are expected to increase 44 percent from last year to an average of $620,000 a day. That figure factors in stakes purses, which received a $1.9 million increase over 2011.

Maiden special weight sprint races will be worth $70,000 – up from $50,000 in 2011 – while routes will be worth $75,000 – up from $51,000 a year ago.

That money has attracted some new faces to the backside including Dale Romans, Eddie Kenneally, Mike Maker, Joe Orseno, Steve Klesaris, Mike Trombetta, Ian Wilkes and Michael Stidham.

“The obvious reasons are the money, but really last year we were at Delaware and we had a really disastrous meet with injuries on the track,” said Stidham, who has brought 12 horses, including the stakes-winning sprinter Comedero. “I needed a dirt option because we stable the majority of our horses at Arlington on the Polytrack and obviously not every horse runs on the Polytrack. I have some New York-breds and it started making sense to get my foot in the door in New York.”

In an effort to stimulate activity in the 2-year-old division, NYRA will offer a $100,000 bonus to the connections of a horse that wins a maiden race at the Belmont spring/summer meet and wins a graded stakes at a NYRA track by the end of the year. That money counts toward a horse’s graded purse earnings and could help the horse qualify for next year’s Kentucky Derby, which uses graded earnings to determine the field if it is oversubscribed.

Trainer Steve Asmussen said he hopes to participate in some of Belmont’s 2-year-old races.

“Absolutely,” he said. “You hope they’re good enough to consider for that. At this stage I’m not sure of it. The last couple of years we started our babies later in the year. You’re definitely aware of what’s happening. It’ll require better horses, which we’re hoping to have.”

The first two cards have drawn 128 and 118 horses, respectively, though eight of the first 20 races are claiming events. NYRA president Charlie Hayward said he hopes Belmont can capitalize on what he thought was a good end to the Aqueduct spring meet.

“I think the last couple of weeks we had [at Aqueduct] have really been strong,” Hayward said. “The fields are bigger, the quality’s a little bit better. Belmont spring, the first two or three weeks are really hard, and I think this year we’re going to get a good running start.”

The higher purses have brought several new faces to the riding colony, including Julien Leparoux, who usually rides in Kentucky, and Rosie Napravnik, who has previously summered in Delaware. They join a cast that includes Ramon Dominguez, Javier Castellano, John Velazquez, Cornelio Velasquez, Rajiv Maragh, Eddie Castro, and Alan Garcia.

Belmont will host 35 stakes worth $9.05 million, topped, of course, by the $1 million Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown, on June 9. Twenty-six of the stakes are graded, eight are Grade 1’s. Fifteen of the stakes received purse increases, including the Metropolitan Handicap, which was raised $250,000 to $750,000, and the Ogden Phipps, which was raised by $150,000 to $400,000. Both races – as well as the Grade 1 Acorn – will be run on Memorial Day.

The first graded event of the meet is Saturday’s Grade 3, $150,000 Westchester, which drew Grade 1 winners To Honor and Serve, Boys At Tosconova and Jersey Town.

Neither of the two overnight stakes scheduled for Friday filled and the 10-race card includes three races for $15,000 claimers.

The feature is a first-level allowance race for 3-year-olds topped by Guyana Star Dweej, who beat a solid field of maidens at Aqueduct on Wood Day.

Trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal flirted with the idea of running Guyana Star Dweej in last weekend’s Jerome, but wanted the additional time and the easier spot.

“I wanted to go through his conditions,” Shivmangal said. “I was more thinking Peter Pan. I want to give him his race and see how he does here.”

The main threats are Unstoppable U, who won his debut in the slop over the main track on March 31; Charlie’s Quest, who makes his first start off the Richard Dutrow Jr. claim; and Shipshape, a Juddmonte homebred son of Empire Maker who won a two-turn maiden race at Tampa a month ago.