09/04/2007 11:00PM

Let the good times roll at Belmont

Deborah Kral/Horsephotos
Rags to Riches didn't race during the Saratoga meet, but the Belmont Stakes-winning filly is on schedule for the Gazelle Stakes here on Sept. 15.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Following a wildly successful Saratoga season, and after receiving an endorsement from New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer to conduct racing in this state for the next three decades, the New York Racing Association finds itself awash in momentum entering the Belmont fall meet that begins on Friday.

The good times should continue as good weather is forecast to usher in the 33-day meet, which features some of the most prestigious events on the racing calendar and should springboard the talent-laden East Coast horses to the Breeders' Cup Championships at Monmouth Park next month.

Over the next 6 1/2 weeks, Belmont will host 36 traditional stakes, 18 of them graded, including 11 Gradeo1's, with purses totaling $8.6 million. A general 12 percent purse increase that went into effect for the last three weeks of the Belmont spring-summer meet will be intact throughout the fall meet, which should boost field size.

"I'm anticipating field size to be up and for us to have a good meet," said Charles Hayward, the NYRA president and CEO. "We can't expect a repeat of the weather obviously."

Hayward was referring to the terrific weather during the 36-day Saratoga meet, which set a record for ontrack handle and boasted the second-largest daily average total handle in track history.

While Saratoga fans got to see Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in the flesh, the Preakness winner Curlin and Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches are expected to race during the Belmont meet. Curlin is pointing to the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 30 - where he could meet Whitney and Woodward winner Lawyer Ron - while Rags to Riches is targeting the Gazelle here on Sept. 15.

The Jockey Club Gold Cup card also includes the Vosburgh, Beldame, and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, all Grade 1 races that are part of the Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" series. The winners of all four races earn automatic berths into their respective Breeders' Cup races four weeks later.

Belmont's fall meet always attracts some European-based horses, and already there are several Europeans on the grounds. Doctor Dino, third in the Arlington Million, will be one of the contenders for Saturday's Gradeo1 Man o' War, as will the Ireland-based Yellowstone from the powerful Aidan O'Brien stable.

Juddmonte Farms's Costume and the Ireland-based Alexander Tango will take on multiple Grade 1 stakes winner Rutherienne in Saturday's Grade 1 Garden City. Saturday's card also features the Grade 1 Ruffian for fillies and mares. Take D' Tour, a three-time Grade 1 winner over the course, is already here from Florida.

Friday's opening-day card is highlighted by the $100,000 General Douglas MacArthur Handicap for New York-breds going one mile. Naughty New Yorker will seek to become the third straight horse to win back-to-back runnings of this race when he takes on six opponents.

Naughty New Yorker, 5, is only 2 for 12 over this track, but his wins have come in the Mike Lee at age 3 and the MacArthur at 4. He is coming off a seven-length score in the Saratoga Sunrise stakes going nine furlongs around two turns last out at Saratoga. Javier Castellano rides.

Gold and Roses is the horse to beat in the MacArthur. Gold and Roses stretches out to a mile after rolling in the 6 1/2-furlong John Morrisey Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 2.

Tom Bush, the trainer of Gold and Roses, wanted to run him in a six-furlong allowance race last weekend but it did not fill. He is 4 for 6 at a mile but must tote 123 pounds, four more than Naughty New Yorker.

"I didn't want to get him out of the game I had him in sprinting," Bush said. "He does carry 123 pounds; it's worrisome."

Bush will also send out Run Red Run, who came back off an eight-month layoff in an open company sprint at seven furlongs and finished sixth of nine.

"I probably didn't run him back in the right spot off the layoff," Bush said. "I shouldn't have sprinted him. I should have waited for Belmont or gone two turns, but I was worried about running him a mile and an eighth on dirt first time back. He's training well. I think he can pick up a piece."

o General admission and parking is free on Friday.