Belmont Park Opens Season This Friday

Track Expected To Bring Horse Racing’s Stars To NY

Throughout the decades, Belmont Park has boasted a deep riding colony and has attracted many of the sport’s leading trainers. With daily purses expected to average $620,000, the competition will be tougher than ever during the meet that begins tomorrow, Friday, Apr. 27, and concludes July 15.

With jockey Mike Luzzi in the saddle, The Lumber Guy rebounded from a disappointing effort in the Wood Memorial to win last Saturday’s Grade 2 Jerome Stakes.

Trainer Dale Romans, who has never had more than 10 horses at Belmont in the spring, will personally oversee 38 head this year.

“New York is heading back to the head of the class,” said Romans, who through Friday has won nine races from 69 starters this year at Aqueduct. “It’s the best jurisdiction for racing. This is the first time in the spring that we’re going to have a fulltime stable. I’m renting a house across the street from the track, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Jockeys Julien Leparoux, Rosie Napravnik and Junior Alvarado will ride full-time at Belmont for the first time, and they’ll face off against Eclipse Award winners Ramon Dominguez, Edgar Prado, and John Velazquez. The talented jockey colony also includes Javier Castellano, Eddie Castro, David Cohen, Alan Garcia, Jose Lezcano, Rajiv Maragh, Corey Nakatani, Alex Solis, and Cornelio Velasquez.

Leparoux, named the 2009 Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Jockey and a regular at Saratoga Race Course, will ride in New York full-time beginning with the Belmont meet. In New York, Leparoux has earned Grade 1 victories in the 2008 and 2009 Diana Handicap (Forever Together), 2009 Personal Ensign Handicap (Icon Project), 2009 Flower Bowl Invitational (Pure Clan), and 2010 Carter Handicap (Warrior’s Reward).

“He’s ready for a different challenge,” Leparoux’s longtime agent Steve Bass said in February. “We were looking for a place where we could go and basically stay yearround- not have to pack up and move every few months. The purses don’t hurt, either.”

Napravnik, leading jockey at the Fair Grounds the past two years and at Delaware Park in 2010, has returned to New York to compete regularly for the first time since she successfully wintered at Aqueduct in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

“I’m really looking forward to joining this riding colony full time,” said Napravnik. “I got my feet wet a couple of winters ago, so I’ve gotten to know a lot of the trainers and ride for a lot of them and win races for many of them. [The racing] is going to be unbelievable, like nowhere else.”

Alvarado, winner of the 2009 riding title at Arlington Park, has competed at Aqueduct the past two winters, respectively finishing fifth and third in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 inner track jockey standings. This year, he’ll ride in New York yearround instead of returning to Arlington.

“I did pretty well last year in the winter, but it was getting really tough so I decided to go back to Chicago,” said Alvarado. “I have a great agent [Mike Sellito], though, so I know I’ll be riding for good trainers this year. That’s why we’re going to take a chance and stay here. It’s going to be tough, but it’s going to be tough for everybody.”

The list of trainers who for the first time will have a string in New York for the duration of the Belmont spring/summer meet includes H. Graham Motion, Ralph Nicks, Tom Proctor, Michael Trombetta, and Ian Wilkes.

“With the way things are and with the purses being so good, we decided we wanted to work in NewYork a little bit more,” said Trombetta, who will have six stalls at Belmont. “If we have the right horses to run in New York, then we’ll want to have the opportunity to run them. We run quite a bit in New York from the Fair Hill training center, but we thought there’d be some benefit to having stalls in New York. A lot of horses can van 4-5 hours and run just fine, but some run better if they get there a day or two early, and this will help us with that.”

In addition, the list of out-of-state horsemen who will be prominent at Belmont includes Bob Hess, Jr., Eddie Kenneally, Steve Klesaris, Mike Maker, Ken McPeek, and Michelle Nihei.

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) is offering $100,000 bonus for any two-year-old who breaks its maiden during the spring/summer meet and goes on to win a graded stakes at Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park or Aqueduct Racetrack in 2012. One operation that’s poised to take advantage of the bonus is the Kiaran McLaughlin barn, which will receive its first batch of Darley Stable two-year-olds ear- lier than usual.

“We brought 10 [juveniles] to Palm Meadows and we’re going to be early and hopefully be ready to run here in June,” said McLaughlin. “We had to plan last year to [send horses to New York earlier in 2012], so hopefully it works out. It’s a $100,000 bonus if you win a graded stakes and it goes in your graded stakes earnings for the [Kentucky] Derby. So it’s great, but it’s going to be tough.”

The 144th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes on June 9 will serve as the biggest day of the spring/summer meet. Belmont Park will conduct four additional graded stakes that day, including the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap and Grade 1 Just a Game Handicap.

Other meet highlights include four graded stakes on Memorial Day, May 28, featuring the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, with the Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes on June 23 and the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes on July 14.

The MTA Long Island Rail Road’s (LIRR) “Belmont Special” is off and running to Belmont Park for the spring racing season. The LIRR is partnering with the NYRA again this year to provide regular train service for racing fans for the Belmont spring meet, startingApr. 27 and continuing through July 15.

Through the partnership, NYRA subsidizes the cost of operating the LIRR Belmont service for racing fans. Belmont Park is only a halfhour train ride from midtown Manhattan and the LIRR’s “Belmont Special” ticket package entitles LIRR customers to a $1 discount off the regular $3 grandstand admission.

Post time is 12:50 p.m. on all racing days, except Saturday, June 9- Belmont Stakes Day-when the post time is 11:35 a.m. On three Fridays – June 29, July 6 and July 13-post time is 3 p.m. Belmont Park admission gates open at 11:15 a.m. daily. There is no racing on Mondays and Tuesdays, with the exception of Monday, May 28. There is no racing on Wednesday, May 30, Wednesday, July 11, and Sunday, June 10.

For full details about the Belmont Special and a timetable, visit www.nyra.com or www.mta.info/lirr.

The Lumber Guy bounces back

The Lumber Guy improved his record to 3-for-4 with a front-running victory in the 142nd edition of the Grade 2, $200,000 Jerome Stakes last Saturday, Apr. 21, at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Wheeled back on 14 days rest off a fifth in Aqueduct’s Grade 1 Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial, The Lumber Guy claimed a narrow lead after exiting the chute and posted fractions of 22.98 and 45.83 while receiving pressure from Brigand. The two drew on even terms at the head of the stretch before The Lumber Guy shrugged off Brigand’s challenge and drove clear under Mike Luzzi’s drive, defeating his rival by 2 3/4 lengths.

“He left clean, he was in my hands,” said Luzzi. “It felt slower than it was, honestly. It wasn’t out- of-control speed. He’s just a talented horse. I know the fractions might have said differently, but to me it felt like we went slower and it felt like I still had a lot left [in the stretch]. He galloped out good, too.”

Off as the 2-1 second choice, The Lumber Guy returned $6.50 to his backers in the crowd of 5,794 and completed one mile in 1:36.04.

The Lumber Guy, who had previously won Laurel Park’s Miracle Wood in February, is unbeaten at distances ranging from six furlongs to one mile, with his Wood Memorial defeat coming at 1 1/8 miles.

Trainer Michael Hushion remains steadfast in his desire to give The Lumber Guy additional opportunities to compete over a route of ground.

“His gallop out looked good to me-from what I saw quickly-so I don’t know about distance limitations,” said Hushion. “I guess that 36 flat (1:36.04) is going to come up a nice time. Getting to the two-turn thing is a bridge we’re going to have to cross sometime pretty soon. Today, he showed what we were hoping he would show. When he got his head, in front his stride just opened up. His stride looked awfully good down the backside. He’s a nice, big mover.”

The Lumber Guy is owned by Barry Schwartz, who bred the son of Grand Slam in New York. He has earned $225,000 to date, including $120,000 for his Jerome victory.

Stirred Up was third, followed home by Dan and Sheila, Adirondack King, and Term Loan. Right to Vote was scratched.

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