by Pat McKenna
Belmont at the Big A to offer 41 stakes worth $9.9 million in total purses
The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) today announced that, due to the construction of vehicular and pedestrian tunnels designed to provide access to the Belmont Park infield, the 2022 Belmont Park fall meet will be held at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The 28-day Belmont at the Big A fall meet will begin on Thursday, September 15 and run through Sunday, October 30. Headlined by four Grade 1 races and six “Win and You’re In” qualifiers to the Breeders’ Cup in November at Keeneland, Belmont at the Big A will feature 23 graded events among 41 stakes worth $9.9 million in total purses. Live racing will be conducted Thursday-Sunday.
The construction of tunnels for vehicular and pedestrian access is a major capital improvement project that will unlock the 45-acre infield at Belmont Park. In addition to providing access for fans and the surrounding community, the tunnels will serve as a conduit to the infield for commercial vehicles allowing NYRA to completely reconstruct the Belmont main track and its two turf courses. The tunnels will also provide NYRA with the opportunity to consider the installation of a synthetic track in the future.
“This investment in the future of Belmont Park will transform our racing operations and pave the way for a broader re-imagining of the facility,” said Dave O’Rourke, NYRA President & CEO. “The shift to Aqueduct this fall will minimize the overall impact on the racing schedule, and ensure continuity for the Belmont spring/summer meet and Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets. We appreciate the patience of our horsemen and fans as we enter this period of transition at Belmont, and look forward to an exciting fall at the Big A.”
Construction on the tunnels will require the closure of the Belmont Park main track and turf courses at the conclusion of training hours on Sunday, August 7. NYRA expects main track and turf training to resume in April 2023. Construction on the racetracks will begin following the conclusion of the 2023 Belmont Park spring/summer meet, which will be held in its entirety at Belmont.
Following a three-week closure for annual track maintenance, the Belmont Park training track will re-open on Monday, August 8 and remain open throughout tunnel and track construction.
As part of the same round of capital improvement projects, NYRA will install a synthetic surface on the ¼ mile Belmont Park Pony Track. Expected to be complete in September, the Tapeta Footings track will provide a new all-weather training option and yield information and data on the performance of a synthetic surface in the weather conditions at Belmont.
The Oklahoma Training track will operate as normal, with scheduled turf training available throughout the fall.
The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA) is responsible for advancing and protecting the interests of thoroughbred owners and trainers at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course. In his role as NYTHA President, Joe Appelbaum expressed support for the planned renovations and improvements to Belmont.
“NYTHA membership recognize the importance of modernizing Belmont Park and look forward to competing at a world-class thoroughbred racing venue,” said Appelbaum. “We will continue to work closely with NYRA to reduce any burdens on horsemen created by the temporary closure of the main track at Belmont.”
Belmont at the Big A will offer significant purse increases with a particular focus on adding value to conditions impacting the broadest group of owners and trainers. Accordingly, open allowance races will be run for six-figure purses while all claiming categories, New York-bred, and maiden races will enjoy purse enhancements.
Beyond the increases to the purse schedule, NYRA will introduce a new bonus program to further reward horsemen for competing at the fall meet. The Belmont at the Big A bonus will pay $500 to the owner and $500 to the trainer of any horse finishing outside of the top three in his/her first fall start provided the most recent start was during the 2022 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course. Stakes races at Aqueduct do not qualify for the Belmont at the Big A bonus.
The Belmont at the Big A stakes action will kick off on Saturday, September 17, with the closing legs of the Caesars Turf Triple Series: the Grade 3, $1 million Caesars Jockey Club Derby for 3-year-olds going 1 1/2 miles on the turf and the Grade 3, $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks for sophomore fillies. The Grade 3, $150,000 Pebbles at one-mile on turf for sophomore fillies will then be contested on Sunday, September 18.
The first New York-bred stakes of the meet will be the $125,000 Joseph A. Gimma on Friday, September 23, leading into a weekend that includes the Grade 3, $175,000 Athenia for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up competing at 1 1/8 miles on the turf on Saturday, September 24. The Saturday card will also include the $125,000 Ashley T. Cole, a nine-furlong turf test for state-breds 3-years-old and up. The following day will see fillies and mares 3-and-up sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs in the Grade 2, $250,000 Gallant Bloom, with the undercard rounded out by the $150,000 Bertram F. Bongard for New York-bred juveniles going seven furlongs.
The weekend of October 1-2 will be comprised of seven graded stakes with a pair of Grade 1s highlighting the Saturday card in the $500,000 Woodward for 3-year-olds and up going nine furlongs and the $500,000 Champagne for 2-year-olds running one mile. The Champagne affords the winner a spot in the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The October 2 card will also include the Grade 2, $200,000 Miss Grillo for fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the turf, which offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf; along with the Grade 3, $200,000 Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational for 3-year-olds and up going six furlongs on the turf.
Sunday, October 2 will be headlined by the Grade 1, $400,000 Frizette for 2-year-old fillies at one mile with a spot in the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies up for grabs. The October 2 card will include the Grade 2, $200,000 Pilgrim for juveniles going 1 1/16 miles on the turf, offering a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf; and the Grade 3, $300,000 Fasig-Tipton Waya at 1 3/8 miles for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up.
Top quality racing will continue on Saturday, October 8 with the Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/2-miles, along with the Grade 2, $250,000 Vosburgh, a seven-furlong sprint [previously run at six furlongs] for 3-year-olds and up, which offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Rounding out the October 8 stakes action will be the Grade 3, $150,000 Matron at six furlongs on turf for juvenile fillies.
October 9 will offer the fall meet’s final Breeders’ Cup qualifier with the Grade 3, $150,000 Futurity for 2-year-olds going six furlongs on the turf providing a spot in the Grade 1, $2 million Juvenile Turf Sprint. Also on tap that day will be the Grade 2, $250,000 Beldame at nine furlongs for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up; and the Grade 3, $150,000 Knickerbocker for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles on the turf.
On Saturday, October 29, the Grade 2, $300,000 Kelso, a one-turn mile for 3-year-olds and up will offer the top-four finishers a free nomination and starting fee in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile. The October 29 card will include the Grade 3, $200,000 Bold Ruler for 3-year-olds and up at six furlongs [previously run at seven furlongs] on the main track.
Additional graded races include the Grade 2, $200,000 Sands Point [October 15], Grade 2, $300,000 Hill Prince [October 22], and the Grade 3, $150,000 Noble Damsel [October 22].
Belmont at the Big A will close on Sunday, October 30 with the annual Empire Showcase Day, which will include eight stakes for New York-breds worth $1.6 million in total purse money. The lucrative card is highlighted by the $250,000 Empire Classic for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles, and its counterpart the $250,000 Empire Distaff at nine furlongs for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up. Both the Empire Classic and Empire Distaff were previously run at 1 1/16-miles. Empire Showcase Day will also include four $200,000 stakes in the Sleepy Hollow, Maid of the Mist, Mohawk and Ticonderoga, along with a pair of $150,000 stakes in the Iroquois and Hudson.
For the complete Belmont at the Big A stakes schedule, visit https://bit.ly/3vmPaJP.