Updated on 09/16/2011 8:11AM

Championship season starts

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Say Florida Sandy goes for a third victory in the General Douglas MacArthur Handicap, Belmont's opening-day feature.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Belmont's fall meet may not have the cachet of Saratoga, but it will not lack for quality, intrigue, or importance.

With the World Thoroughbred Championships just 50 days away, many of Belmont's 38 stakes will be used by horsemen from around the country and some from Europe to determine if their animals are worthy of running in any of the eight Breeders' Cup races to be run at Arlington Park on Oct. 26.

Belmont's 33-day meet begins Friday with a nine-race card that includes the $75,000 General Douglas MacArthur Handicap, which drew 11 New York-bred colts and geldings, and a quality grass allowance race featuring stakes winners Baptize and Proud Man. First post Friday and every racing day is 1 p.m. Eastern.

Belmont will conduct racing primarily on a Wednesday-through-Sunday basis through Oct. 20 with two exceptions. The track will be dark Wednesday for the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and instead will be open Monday. Belmont will also be open Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 14, and dark Wednesday, Oct. 16.

The Belmont backside will resemble that of Saratoga, with horsemen such as Bobby Frankel, Ken McPeek, Steve Asmussen, Eoin Harty, and Dale Romans maintaining strings here this fall. Neil Drysdale also has a full barn of runners.

Belmont will host 38 stakes worth $9.975 million, including 14 Grade 1 events. Four of those Grade 1's will be run this weekend, as on Saturday Lido Palace attempts to defend his Woodward title, With Anticipation will try do likewise in the Man o' War, and Take Charge Lady and Bella Bellucci square off in the Gazelle. On Sunday, Wonder Again heads a nine-horse field expected for the Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap.

The richest race of the meet, the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup, will be held on Sept. 28 along with the $750,000 Flower Bowl Invitational. Other traditional Breeders' Cup preps such as the Beldame, Champagne, Frizette, and Kelso will be run on Oct. 5.

As was the case during Saratoga, Belmont will guarantee $500,000 in the pick four pool every Saturday. The wager may be played for $1. Those who did not get their Jerry Bailey bobble-head doll at Saratoga have another chance to get one Sunday with paid admission.

Bailey will begin the meet on the sidelines as he serves out a seven-day suspension for careless riding, thus giving Saratoga's leading rider, Edgar Prado, as well as John Velazquez, Jose Santos, and Jorge Chavez a head start on leading rider honors. Bailey won last year's fall title with 36 wins, two more than both Prado and Velazquez. Victor Carrero, the leading apprentice in New York this summer, begins life as a journeyman rider on Friday. Edwin Fuentes looks to be the top apprentice.

Say Florida Sandy, the richest New York-bred in history, will try to inch closer to the $2 million earnings mark when he runs in the $75,000 General Douglas MacArthur, a seven-furlong race he won in 1998 and 2000. As the 125-pound highweight, Say Florida Sandy, who is part of an entry with 1997 and 1999 MacArthur winner Stalwart Member, gives seven to 11 pounds to his 10 rivals.

An 8-year-old son of Personal Flag, Say Florida Sandy has run respectably this year against the likes of sprint divisional leaders Left Bank and Orientate. In between, he has won two allowance races against open company.

The last time he faced statebreds, Say Florida Sandy had a troubled trip and was beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Impeachthepro in last October's Hudson Handicap.

"I thought our horse had the worst of it when they met last time," said Say Florida Sandy's trainer, Victor Cuadra, who noted that Stalwart Member likely would not run. "I have respect for Impeachthepro. He's a good horse. I'm not happy about giving up seven pounds to him."

Impeachthepro is coming off a lifetime-best effort winning a money allowance race in the slop at Delaware Park on Aug. 24 where he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 108. He is 2 for 3 at Belmont and gets in light at 118 pounds.

A surprise package in the MacArthur could be Private Enterprise, a gorgeous 5-year-old gelded son of Belong to Me who makes his stakes-debut and gets in at 115 pounds. Under the tutelage of trainer Tom Bush, Private Enterprise has come back from an 18-month layoff to win two of three starts including an eight-length score last month at Saratoga.