07/12/2013 3:23PM

Steven Crist: Belmont sets table for exciting summer at Saratoga

Barbara D. Livingston
Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice (above) could face Kentucky Derby champion Orb and Preakness hero Oxbow in the Travers at Saratoga.

The Belmont spring/summer meeting, which ends Sunday after an 11 1/2-week run that began April 26, had its moments of very good racing but settled little in the way of establishing clear front-runners for the heart of the racing season ahead. This is not entirely a bad thing, as it set the stage for an even more competitive than usual Saratoga with leadership of every division there for the taking.

The Belmont meet included eight Grade 1 stakes (Saratoga will have 16, with nine more during the Belmont fall stand), contested over just four cards, since there were three on Memorial Day (Acorn, Phipps, Metropolitan) and three on Belmont Stakes Day (Just a Game, Manhattan, and Belmont), with the June 22 Mother Goose and July 13 Man o’ War completing the Grade 1 lineup.

One race that seems worthy of an upgrade consideration is the Grade 2 Suburban, which lost its Grade 1 status a few years ago but remains as strong as other Grade 1’s for older males around the country. It doesn’t seem quite right that the meeting’s only Grade 1 dirt race for older males is the one-mile Metropolitan. It could also be argued that there should be a Grade 1 sprint at the meet  and there is a case to be made that the $400,000 True North and $350,000 Woody Stephens, both currently Grade 2’s, deserve upgrades.

The Belmont Stakes, where Palace Malice defeated Preakness winner Oxbow and Derby winner Orb, set up the possibility of a rare showdown among three classic winners in the Travers on Aug. 24. That could make the Travers a decisive race for the 3-year-old title, barring the for-now unlikely scenario of any 3-year-old dominating his elders this fall.

The 3-year-old filly picture is at least as wide open after two lopsided Grade 1 outcomes at the spring/summer meet: Midnight Lucky trounced Close Hatches by 6 1/4 lengths in the Acorn on May 27, then Close Hatches upset 1-5 Dreaming of Julia in the Mother Goose on June 22. All three of those fillies finished behind Princess of Sylmar in the Kentucky Oaks, however, and doubts remain about Midnight Lucky at more than a mile. This crew will continue to sort itself out at Saratoga in the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 20 and the Alabama on Aug. 17.

The nation’s older dirt males are a deep group this year, led by Game On Dude in California and Fort Larned in Kentucky, with Belmont spring/summer meet performers Sahara Sky (Metropolitan), Flat Out (Suburban), and Cross Traffic (Westchester and Met runner-up) in the mix. The Whitney on Aug. 3 and Woodward on Aug. 31 are next up in the division. TizMiz Sue won the meet’s lone Grade 1 for older dirt fillies in the Phipps on May 27, but this division remains wide open, with reigning champion Royal Delta the early favorite for the Grade 1 Personal Ensign on Aug. 25.

There has been very little 2-year-old racing to date, but the first graded stakes are the Schuylerville for fillies on opening day at Saratoga on July 19 and the Sanford for males two days later.

Pick five wager hamstrung by red tape

Will there be a new, low-takeout pick-five when Saratoga opens? Fans are clamoring for it, track officials want it, but the heavy hand of government bureaucracy may thwart it.

The short explanation is that the New York Racing Association has received approval to offer the bet, but for technical reasons it would have to be conducted under the pre-1996 rules for multirace bets, which did not include a provision for what happens when a race is switched from dirt to grass because of heavy rain after the wager has closed. When that happens in a pick four or pick six, the race is declared an “all,” since it would be unfair to stick bettors with selections made for the wrong surface.

Obviously, the same should apply in a pick five, but unless someone in government steps in with some scissors to get through procedural red tape, there could be a nightmarish situation – surface-switched races declared “alls” in the pick four and pick six but not in the pick five. This would create chaotic confusion among bettors and justified howls of unfairness from the betting public. It is unclear if the track would even want to offer the wager under those conditions.

There is absolutely no difference of opinion that this would be an intolerable situation and that  there has to be a way around it. We will know by next Friday whether common sense can be made to prevail on the smallest and simplest point, or whether the dysfunctional relationship between racing and government in New York has reached perhaps its lowest point ever.

T More than 1 year ago
Hey Steve, have you heard any news on the Pick 5? Or is NYRA going to drop the ball again?
GQ More than 1 year ago
Key words in you article Steve, New York Racing Association. even with a new grand poobah, why would anyone have optimism with this gang that can never shoot straight. George in Naples
Bill Duncliffe More than 1 year ago
Best spring/summer meet at Belmont in a while? Wow...I thought anything but. A lot of conditioned claimers and medication rules have resulted in short fields at Belmont also.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
State bred races are going to stop me from betting in Saratoga I most often bet only $2 in the restricted md and non winners of 2 lifetime cond. May I ask anyone Who is running the nyra ? is it the ny breeders. I think the players should have some input . We do pay the bills don"t we.
Kenny More than 1 year ago
There is no reason to make believe the cheapest horse racing at NYRA in spring summer is worth 16k.....run 5k, 8k and 10k claimers or make the trainers go to FL.
Kenny More than 1 year ago
Restricted State bred races should be eliminated and in place the bonus system should be enhanced
Kenny More than 1 year ago
20 years ago I was going around saying NYRA should be running turf sprints, 7 F, 6 F at Belmont and 5 1/2 at Saratoga that would create full fields these were the days when the Jaipur and maybe one other turf sprint was run in the spring........boy now its a case of be careful what you wish for......they overdose on these kinds of races..............to many statebreds IMO.....I can't for the life of me figure out why they can't fill maiden turf races the way they can at Gulfstream Park. Why are trainers running horse in Delaware and Monmouth for less $$? Has to be the lousy statebreds taking up stall space.
Tom Whitmore More than 1 year ago
Does anyone know also if they are thinking about starting 50 cent tri's and pick 3's? Other tracks offer these bets but not NYRA, only the pick fours.
Jack Twee More than 1 year ago
Hopefully not,It will water down the payouts.
Perl More than 1 year ago
That's not true. I think they will have the effect of "rounding" the payouts. People will be able to cover more random combinations. Therefore there won't likely be as many severely overlaid OR underlaid payouts. It will work in both directions. It will also make it possible for the player with modest bankroll to do these bets justice.
Jack Twee More than 1 year ago
50 cent tri's and pick 3's have been a failure and have not increased handle!
Perl More than 1 year ago
I couldn't care less if they have increased handle or not. The idea is to even the playing field for people who can't spread appropriately on these types of wagers. As for whether or not they have increased handle, there's no reason they would accomplish that, as anyone who gravitates toward these exotics (with higher takeout) will likely reduce their wagering budget in other pools (W/P, etc). But yeah if you want the whales to have even more advantages than they already do (and reduce the interest of more casual fans) then why not raise the minimum base bet to $2. Or why stop there. Make it $5.
Mike B More than 1 year ago
I remember when some tracks had $5 minimum exactas (SA, HOL, NYRA?, and even $3 minimum base bets (FG)
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Bull. People buy in with a ridiculous amounts of coverage. sure losers.
Perl More than 1 year ago
You must not understand mathematics, apparently.
russell More than 1 year ago
The spring summer meet at Belmont was probably the best its been in a while. Anyone see the garbage they are running at CD and Monmouth? They used to compete with Belmont but now its not even close. CD has 3 bettable cards the entire year. The racing at Parx is better than CD and Monmouth.
Will LaTulippe More than 1 year ago
Agreed on CD. Really used to love playing them too, but I can do without six and seven horse fields. Regarding MTH, are you out of your mind? Plenty of big fields, both in dirt sprints and in turf races.
russell More than 1 year ago
its NJ junk. and you know it.
BlindLuckk More than 1 year ago
Saratoga - the only New York track worth following/betting