10/19/2011 3:44PM

Belmont: Talented but fragile Haynesfield returns for Empire Classic

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Haynesfield, winning the Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct, returns from five months on the sidelines for Saturday's Empire Classic for New York-breds.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Coming off a terrific season in which he won the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and Grade 2 Suburban, Haynesfield was projected to be a significant player in the handicap division in 2011.

Myriad issues – mostly involving his feet – have limited the 5-year-old Haynesfield to just two starts this year. Saturday, following a five-month layoff, Haynesfield returns to the races and New York-bred competition when he heads a field of eight entered in the $200,000 Empire Classic at Belmont Park.

The Empire Classic, run at 1 1/8 miles on the main track, is the marquee event of New York Showcase Day, a 10-race card devoted entirely to horses bred in New York state. The program features seven stakes totaling $900,000 in purses, plus two maiden races and an allowance, bringing the total purses for the day to $1.024 million. A total of 124 horses were entered.

Haynesfield has not run since finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap here in May. Since then, he has battled some foot problems that forced him to miss the summer races. He has been on a regular training schedule since July 25 and his connections opted to forego a prep race to point for this.

“We just trained pretty aggressively and he’s been training well,’’ said Toby Sheets, the New York assistant to Steve Asmussen. “Hopefully we’re in a good spot. I feel very good about him. His feet have kind of come together a little bit so we’re looking good there.’’

In 2009, Haynesfield was off for seven months before coming back to win an overnight sprint stakes, the Empire Classic, and the Discovery at Aqueduct.

Sheets said neither he nor owner Harvey Weinstein has looked past this race for Haynesfield, who last year defeated Blame in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and finished 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic before getting beat a head in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in late November.

“We’re not getting that far ahead,’’ Sheets said. “It’s been a very long year for us. We would enjoy for him to run his race in the Empire Classic.’’

Ramon Dominguez will ride Empire Classic from post 4.

Others contenders for the Empire Classic include Icabad Crane, who finished second in this race last year to Friend or Foe; Inherit the Gold, who returns from a layoff similar to Haynesfield after winning 4 of 6 starts this year; and Johannesburg Smile, who has won two straight.

The Empire Classic goes as race 9 on the 10-race card.

Past winners return in Mohawk, Hudson

Pocket Cowboys and General Maximus look to defend their titles in the Mohawk and Hudson Stakes, respectively.

Pocket Cowboys heads a field of 10 entered in the $125,000 Mohawk, which was shortened from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Pocket Cowboys ran down Straight Story to win last year’s Mohawk. Straight Story is one of 10 opponents Pocket Cowboys meets on Saturday.

The horse to beat in the Mohawk is Compliance Officer, who has won four consecutive races, including the Ashley T. Cole and West Point, since being claimed for $25,000 earlier in the year.

The Mohawk goes as race 10 on the program.

General Maximus won last year’s Hudson Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths over Be Bullish and will have to contend with that rival and his stablemate Driven by Success, the 2009 Hudson winner, in Saturday’s renewal of the six-furlong race.

Generals Maximus is winless in three starts this year, and has not run since finishing fourth in a third-level allowance at Monmouth in June.

Pretty Boy Freud, who has won two straight since returning to dirt, and Preachintothedevil, who won the Mike Lee Stakes sprinting here in the spring, are other contenders.

In the other stakes:

◗ Gitchee Goomie, who has won two New York-bred turf stakes already this year, heads a field of 12 entered for the $125,000 Ticonderoga. Hessonite, Centrina, and Rogue’s Jewel head the list of challengers.

◗ In the $125,000 Iroquois, Lovely Lil returns to statebred company after finishing third in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom. Lovely Lil finished fifth in this race last year. She will take on eight rivals, including stakes winners Sentimental Lass, Opus A, and Spa City Princess.

◗ Wildcat’s Smile, who defeated males in the New York Breeders’ Futurity at Finger Lakes on Oct. 1, meets her own sex in the Joseph A Gimma for 2-year-old fillies. Shot Gun Pennie, who beat Wildcat’s Smile in the Lady Finger Stakes on Sept. 5, is back in this field as are Victory Island and Newbie, a couple of well-bred winners.

◗ Flying Zee Stable has a four-horse entry of The Prize Fighter, Western Tryst, Night Maneuver, and Goodtime Boy among 13 2-year-old males entered in the $100,000 Bertram F. Bongard Stakes.