10/22/2011 6:37PM

Belmont Park: Despite layoff, Haynesfield refuses to lose in Empire Classic

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Haynesfield digs deep under Ramon Dominguez to win his second Empire Classic.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Haynesfield was the class of the Empire Classic field on paper and he proved to be exactly that on the racetrack, coming back from a five-month layoff to win Saturday’s $200,000 Empire Classic by a length over Green Monster on New York Showcase Day at Belmont Park.

It was the second time in three years that Haynesfield won the Empire Classic. Last year, Haynesfield was running with the big boys, beating Blame in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup before running 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

Before Saturday, this year had been a disappointing one for Haynesfield, who had run fourth in the Westchster in April and fifth in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap in May. Foot issues kept him from the races for five months, but his connections, led by assistant trainer Toby Sheets, did a superb job getting him fit enough to run 1 1/8 miles on Saturday.

Under Ramon Dominguez, Haynesfield was six lengths off the pace after Green Monster ran a half-mile in 47.38 seconds. At the half-mile pole, both Haynesfield and Johannesburg Smile, under Javer Castellano, went after Green Monster.

 Turning into the stretch, Haynesfield emerged with the lead, but at the eighth pole, he drifted out under Dominguez’s left-handed whip. Johannesburg Smile was attempting to come back along the inside, while Green Monster was re-rallying on the outside.

Once back on course, Haynesfield held Green Monster at bay and never let that horse by him even while galloping out.

Haynesfield covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.08 and returned $3.70 as the favorite.

“I went after the leaders when I saw fit,” Dominguez said. “He got a little tired the last eighth, despite that, when [Green Monster] came to him for a second I thought he was going to go by him. [Haynesfield] kept sticking his neck in front and I felt like he wasn’t too happy about letting that horse go by him. I’m very happy with him especially off the layoff like this.”

Haynesfield, a 5-year-old son of Speightstown owned by Harvey Weinstein’s Turtle Bird Stable, won for the 10th time in 18 starts and pushed his career earnings to $1,306,981.

“Thanks to Mr. Weinstein’s patience, he gave us every bit of time we needed and it worked out,” said Sheets, the New York-based assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. “Just to get back and go a mile and an eighth off that long a layoff was pretty big. He got a little tired, he saw that other horse and dug in. Ramon said he wasn’t letting that other horse go by him.”

Sheets said he wanted to enjoy this win before thinking about what might be next for Haynesfield. The Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 26 seems logical. Haynesfield was beaten a head in that race last year by Jersey Town.