07/07/2016 1:56PM

Hovdey: Big bucks make cross-country trip to Belmont worth it


Got to hand it to the New York Racing Association: It’s spending it while it’s still got it. Half a million bucks for a Grade 3 race. A million for fillies on the grass. An extra $200,000 in couch change just to get a certain someone in the gate.

Oh, to be tapped into casino cash.

How long it lasts is anybody’s guess. The state has turned its greedy eyes to the casino bounty, thereby threatening the recent purse boom that makes possible a day like Saturday’s Stars and Stripes extravaganza, with its $1.25 million Belmont Derby and $1 million Belmont Oaks, along with four main-track stakes worth $1.55 million in total.

How flush is New York racing? Flush enough to promise the connections of reigning filly queen Songbird a purse of $500,000 if she runs in the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on July 24. Without her, the race goes for $300,000. This is old-fashioned pay to play made possible by the cutthroat competition for marquee horses among casino tracks who answer only to themselves.

Songbird had been leaning heavily toward the CCA Oaks anyway, which means the 13 fillies lining up for the Belmont Oaks were always safe from one of her casual drubbings. Catch a Glimpse, on a run of seven straight, will be the deserving favorite. But in the end, their toughest opponent will be the 1 1/4 miles.

Many of the pedigrees scream for the distance. Noble Beauty is by Kitten’s Joy out of a Minecraft mare. Last Waltz mixes Danehill Dancer with the blood of Arc winner Trempolino. Time and Motion brings Pulpit and Kris S. to the party. And what do you do with the Coolmore fillies trained at Ballydoyle by Aidan O’Brien? One is called Coolmore, the other Ballydoyle, which is kind of like naming your daughters Beyonce and Adele.

Into this tall grass wades Keith Desormeaux with Decked Out, the winner of the Providencia Stakes at Santa Anita in April and a close fourth last time out in the Grade 2 Honeymoon. She most recently was seen in New York tackling the likes of Off the Tracks and Just Wicked in the Schuylerville and Adirondack stakes last summer at Saratoga.

“To ship across the country for a race like this, you have to be ultra-confident,” Desormeaux said. “I guess on the surface of her last couple of races, finishing fourth in both, you might want to say, ‘What is he doing?’ But those races were exceptional. They were all closing so strong. She’s been training with such vigor, and she is so sound, that you’ve got to take the opportunity to run for a million dollars at the distance.”

Until this year, a filly like Decked Out probably would have stayed home in California to run in the American Oaks, a quality race that was double-teamed out of existence by the closure of Hollywood Park and the creation of the Belmont Oaks. The idea of a late-December running of the American Oaks has been floated by Santa Anita officials, but really, what would be the point for fillies about to turn 4?

Decked Out is a chestnut by Street Boss, which gets her about seven furlongs, out of a mare by Met Mile winner You and I. It does not necessarily follow that in a career of 12 starts, Decked Out’s two best races have come at 1 1/8 miles, the difference apparently supplied by a Desormeaux training style that puts a premium on a big finish. (See: Texas Red, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; or Exaggerator, Santa Anita Derby and Preakness.)

“Pedigree is not the end all,” Desormeaux said. “I believe there’s more mile-and-a-quarter horses out there than you’d think, if they have the conformation and can adapt to the training. But with, what, 60 to 70 percent of our races being sprints, why would you apply yourself as a trainer to getting a mile and a quarter?”

Decked Out comes from last, which is where Kent Desormeaux, the trainer’s brother, will have the filly early in the Belmont Oaks. Her backers have learned not to panic but still be prepared to take the worst of any traffic that might come her way. She was beaten just a half-length in the Honeymoon with a brief check on the far turn and an altered course in midstretch.

“Kent’s had a lot of input on the decision of how she runs,” Keith Desormeaux said, “and he does not think a mile and a quarter will be a problem. So, here we go.”

Compared to their monopoly of the pre-Belmont media scene, the Desormeaux brothers will be just part of the crowd on Saturday. They’ll warm up earlier on the card in the $500,000 Dwyer Stakes with Swipe, the Birdstone colt best known for finishing second in four straight stakes to Nyquist before handing the baton to stablemate Exaggerator. Swipe’s 3-year-old season has gone in fits and starts, but with a solid six-furlong sprint under his girth at Belmont, the one mile of the Dwyer seems right up his alley.

As for Exaggerator, whose flop in the Belmont still resonates, Keith Desormeaux has lost no faith.

“Trainers are not one to dwell on the past, I don’t think,” Desormeaux said. “Exaggerator’s doing great. He’s recovered, and he’s wanting to do more. He’ll have his first breeze back on Saturday morning in preparation for the Jim Dandy at Saratoga.”

Ray Sousa 9 months ago
The last poster obviously has not paid attention to recent racing at Belmont. Horses are constantly getting blocked in and objections and inquiry's are rampant. Fact is New York is very hostile to shippers in general . Not because of the track or surface but because of the local jockey colony. They are like a pack of wolves working together . And how about the last race at Belmont yesterday that horse ridden by Castellano looked like he was being buzzed all the way to the wire . Before you comment go look at the replay .no whipping just Castellanos hands high on the neck and the horses tail flinging up an down every time the jockey scrubbed the neck. Don't know if a buzzer was involved but the horse showed the classic signs of a buzzed horse .maybe a Pavlovian reflex . I wonder if you used a device during training and the the jock used a small pin in race just to give the horse the impression he was about to be buzzed if the horse would react as if he was being buzzed.just a thought. Of course getting rid of a needle or a small nail would be easier than a buzzer. Just drop it and no one will ever find it .the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Ray Sousa 9 months ago
When I said last race I meant 6th race horse congarette.
Gunner 9 months ago
Well the Top 5 Jocks in NY have to be Jose and Irad O., JJ Cast, JRV and Joel R with Franco knocking on the door. Only one winner per race, however.
Tough game and not for the faint of heart, Ray.
Bill Keating 8 months ago
Wow, do you also believe that a shot was fired from the grassy knoll?

If New York is so hostile to shippers, why do they keep coming. The best trainers in the other Eastern and Mid-West either stabling a string of horses at Saratoga. or shipping in regularly. Brad Cox, Michael Stidham, Danny Gargan, Graham Motion, Dallas Stewart, Steve Asmussen,  Jimmy Jerkens, Jason Servis, Mike Maker and the list goes on. Add these to the locals and you can see why there are so many classy and competitive races.
JacobBenDavid 9 months ago
Good for New York to do this because they have been eliminated from hosting a Breeders' Cup in over a decade, and probably won't host one anytime in the near future. New York was the center of the racing universe before the inception of the Breeders' Cup, and no races in America had a greater say in determining year-end championships than the big races in New York.  While New York continued and continues to host the ceaseless tide of champions, no racing circuit in America sacrificed more than New York did to assist and ensure the success of the Breeders’ Cup.   There is a reason why almost every Hall of Fame horse and top 100 horse ran and will run in NY - and it wasn't just running in the Belmont Stakes either. The most G1 races and Graded stakes races are still run in NY to this day. The Belmont, Wood, Whitney, Travers, Stars and Stripes, multiple Super Saturday's, Woodward and Jockey Club day cards in NY are all like mini BC day cards clustered with huge G1 races with huge purses - and they blow away every other states big day cards. The highest purses are in both downstate and upstate NY still to this day.  Champions are born, made, based and/or trained anywhere in the world, but most American champions are still crowned having run in the major races in New York. And New York was and still is the most prominent racing circuit in North America.

Belmont Park was, is and will always be "The Championship Track" because nearly every major American champion - and Hall of Famer - in racing history has competed and will compete on the racetrack. Almost all of the greatest thoroughbreds of all-time have raced on the hallowed grounds of Belmont and Saratoga Race Course. Belmont and Saratoga are the gold standard - the best in racing. Historic Saratoga Race Course - the third-oldest racetrack in the United States - is also a most revered and renowned race track. Most of the greatest horses in history also have competed at Saratoga. West-coasted based Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, "Belmont Park is by far the fairest track in America. If you’re on the best horse, you have plenty of room to navigate. The best horse almost always wins at Belmont Park." West-coast based Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, "It's not even close. Belmont is the fairest of all American tracks. The track is big, and you don't get jammed up like you do on most other tracks because of the tighter turns. And speed, tactical speed, versatility and handiness are still needed. While a horse can win with any style at Belmont, there is a false perception that in the "The Test of the Champion" Belmont Stakes - or at Belmont in general - that you can come from left field and run down tired horses in front. But the truth is you really have to be in the mix. You really need to be on or near the lead within striking distance, and/or have tactical speed and not drop too far out of it. " West-coasted based Hall of Fame rider Laffit Pincay, "Belmont Park is the best by far. Everything is perfect—it's just a wonderful track. The big wide track is great for horses." West-coast based Hall of Fame rider Bill Shoemaker, "Belmont Park, it's ideal. Belmont Park has the best track with it's fine surface and size. It's wide and wonderful. Big, wide sweeping turns and long straightaways. Riders and horses seldom bunch and jam, and a horse can run the turns as fast as the straightaways."
Steve Wilson 9 months ago
Well said.  Ever notice how the west coast fans seemingly never shout "east coast bias" when talking about the Breeders Cup?
bluegrassdan1 9 months ago
DITTO !!!!!!!!!!!!
Bill Keating 9 months ago
Right On!  New York threw its support behing the Breeder's Cup when it had the most to lose. It's Fall Championship Series attracted Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid and the mighty Forego. These were MUST raises for Eclipse award hopefuls.

Now Belmont is left out while they run "Championship" turf races around 7 and a half furlong bull rings.
Tim 9 months ago
Drunken sailor spending. Try and entice Songbird to run in the Travers instead of donating a worthless extra $200,000 to a public walkover workout...
Fred Reardon 9 months ago
Hi Jay,
I think you have to give NYRA a lot of credit.
In lieu of the Breeders Cup ever being held in the northeast again, NYRA, in its wisdom, has chosen to stage a series of blockbuster bashes at one of its pads.
It helps when you have pads like Belmont and Saratoga.
And the offer of cash always helps bring them out.
Chad mc rory 9 months ago
That extra 200 grand will likely turn out to be a drop in the bucket of Songbirds' earnings but here's to all that are making this race go with her and not without. Safe trips to all...