06/14/2009 11:00PM

Fewer spots for N.Y. juveniles


NEW YORK - Before we note some of the big stakes races run over the weekend, let's first talk about something that came to mind while stewing over the fact that no matter which party is in the right in the spitting contest between the New York Racing Association and Nassau County Off Track Betting concerning the proper use of NYRA's signal, it's the bettors - of course - who are suffering the most.

Anyway, it's only six weeks until the lid lifter at Saratoga, with the opening-day feature of the Schuylerville Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and the Sanford Stakes for 2-year-old males following on Day 2. The thought occurred, who exactly is there to run in these races? It just seems there hasn't been much 2-year-old racing at the current Belmont Park spring-summer meet to develop talent for these upcoming stakes. As it turns out, there's good reason for thinking that.

The 2-year-old event that will go as Wednesday's second race at Belmont will be only the fourth juvenile race of the entire meet, which opened on April 29, and there are no 2-year-old races scheduled for Thursday's or Friday's cards. This is below the number of 2-year-old races that have been run for the same period at the same meet in recent years. By June 19 of last year, seven 2-year-old races had been run at Belmont. By June 15, 2007, five 2-year-old races had been run. And by June 16, 2006, seven 2-year-old races had been run. Now, you might say there isn't much difference between four and seven, but there is, a 75 percent greater difference, in fact. Moreover, the three extra winners that result from carding seven, instead of four, 2-year-old races produce three potential candidates to help populate the early stakes at Saratoga.

If you go back only four years, you'll get a sense of just how little 2-year-old racing there has been this year at Belmont. By June 19, 2005, 12 2-year-old races had been run at Belmont, three times as many for the same period this year.

Right here, it's important to point out that a racing secretary can only card races for the horses that are available to him. There's no question that if horsemen at Belmont were clamoring for more 2-year-old races, then NYRA racing secretary P.J. Campo would try to accommodate them. But there doesn't seem to be much horsemen support for 2-year-old racing at Belmont right now. The two open juvenile races carded so far (last Thursday's and Friday's 2-year-old races were for New York-breds) attracted fields of only five (Wednesday's offering) and six. And that six-horse baby race on May 21 ran with only four starters after two were scratched.

At the same time, NYRA did do something this year to lessen whatever emphasis there was on 2-year-old racing at the Belmont spring-summer meet. At the same meet in 2005, there were four stakes races for 2-year-olds, the Fashion, the Flash, the Astoria, and the Tremont. And the overwhelming victory in that year's Tremont by the top-class Henny Hughes, who went on to be a multiple Grade 1 stakes winner, showed that these early juvenile stakes were not always won by horses who were forgotten in two months. But the Fashion and the Flash were eliminated in 2006, and this year, the Astoria and Tremont were eliminated.

So, while horsemen don't seem to have a lot of 2-year-olds ready to fill maiden races, it also can be argued that the canceling of early-season stakes gave horsemen little incentive to have their babies ready by now. Either way, early 2-year-old racing in New York, one of the sport's more long-standing, entertaining, and inspiring traditions, seems to have gone the way of rotary telephones.

Thoughts on some of the weekend stakes activity:

* It seems almost inconceivable that a horse who has some positional speed could get into as much trouble as Einstein did finishing third as the favorite in Saturday's Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. But that's just what happened to poor Einstein in a race in which this horse didn't come within miles of being able to show what he is capable of. And it seems like a pretty fair bet that Julien Leparoux won't be including this particular ride on Einstein on his career highlight reel.

Despite his defeat, Einstein remains one of the coolest horses in training.

* And in this regard, he's got a partner in Presious Passion, winner of Saturday's Monmouth Stakes. Presious Passion set a fast pace in the Monmouth Stakes and looked beaten when clearly passed in the stretch by favored Proudinsky. But Presious Passion fought back to not only hold off a late charge from Banrock but leave Proudinsky back in third. This would have been a surprise if Presious Passion hadn't done stuff like this before. There might be more talented horses than Presious Passion around, but no one - no one - has more heart.

* Seattle Smooth showed everyone what a dirt freak she is when she mastered as talented an opponent as Seventh Street in Saturday's Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont. Seattle Smooth is now 6 for 6 on fast dirt, and there might not be an older female around this side of Zenyatta who's better than her. Yet perhaps the most surprising thing about the Phipps was the stretch collapse of Music Note. Granted, Music Note might have needed a race in her first start since the Breeders' Cup, but the way she caved in was most discouraging.