ELMONT, N.Y. - The Saturday before the Breeders' Cup, Belmont Park will host Empire Showcase Day, a championship event of its own exclusive to New York-bred horses featuring eight stakes races worth $1.75 million led by the $300,000 Empire Classic Handicap.
Carded as Race 5 on the 11-race program, the Empire Classic is headed by 2013 winner Saratoga Snacks, who finished second in 2012 and fourth last year in the 1 1/8-mile event for 3-year-olds and up. Since trainer Gary Sciacca reacquired the 6-year-old ridgling at the onset of 2015, Saratoga Snacks has hit the board in all five of his outings, including wins in a statebred allowance race in his seasonal bow and the Saginaw on July 18 at Belmont Park. Last out, the son of Tale of the Cat lost a tight decision to fellow Empire Classic entrant Royal Posse in the Evan Shipman on September 4 at Saratoga Race Course.
Saratoga Snacks is listed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite and will break from post 3 with Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard.
Since being claimed for $20,000 on May 31 at Belmont, Royal Posse has collected a pair of victories and a second-place finish from three starts for his new connections - trainer Rudy Rodriguez and owners Michael Dubb and Bethlehem Stables - all going 1 1/8 miles at the Spa. The 4-year-old son of Posse will look to keep the momentum going after his upset score in the Evan Shipman from post 5 with Javier Castellano in the irons. He sits at 7-2 on the morning line.
Third in the Evan Shipman, Empire Dreams completes the leading triumvirate in the Empire Classic. The Patriot Act gelding traded decisions with Saratoga Snacks earlier this year at Belmont, taking the Commentator on May 25 but falling short by three-quarters of a length in the Saginaw. He will be ridden by Manuel Franco from post 8 and is 6-1 on the morning line.
The one-two finishers of last month's Bertram F. Bongard will add another chapter to their budding rivalry as Team D's Get Jets lines up to take another shot at Sudden Surprise, a Repole Stable homebred undefeated in three career starts, as they kick off the day's stakes action in the $250,000 Sleepy Hollow for 2-year-olds going a mile.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, the speedy Sudden Surprise triumphed in his first stakes attempt, taking the Funny Cide by two lengths before hanging on to steal the Bongard in characteristic front-running fashion. Installed at 5-2 on the morning line, the Giant Surprise colt will leave from post 6 ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez. The Tony Dutrow-trained Get Jets, who came up a neck short while facing winners for the first time in the Bongard, will break from post 4 as the mild favorite at 2-1 with current leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. The 38th running of the $150,000 Hudson Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at 6 ½ furlongs, features a competitive field of familiar foes. Headlining the field of 10 is Palace for owner Antonino Miuccio and trainer Linda Rice. Cross-entered in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, the 6-year-old multiple graded stakes winner most recently finished fourth in the Grade 1 Vosburgh on September 26 at Belmont.
Leading the contenders ready to face Palace, 6-5 on the morning line, should he enter is Noble Cornerstone for My Meadowview Farm and trainer Tom Morley. A 4-year-old son of Noble Causeway, he recently ran third in an optional-claimer on September 3 at Saratoga Race Course making only his third start of the year. The second-place finisher in that race, John's Island,will look to improve on that finishfor trainer Jimmy Jerkens and has collected a pair of 91 Beyer Speed Figures in his last two starts. With a perfect 4-for-4 record at Belmont, Ostrolenka will look to get back to the winner's circle for trainer Todd Pletcher while Phil Serpe will enter Weekend Hideawayfor Red and Black Stable. Trainer Mike Hushion will enter a pair in Loki's Vengeance entering off an optional-claiming victory on September 25 at Belmont, and Captain Serious,who enters off a fourth-place finish for the Affirmed Success on May 3.
Veteran warriors Kharafa and Lubash will trade barbs for the 12th time in their storied careers in the 37th running of the $200,000 Mohawk for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf course.
Kharafa, two years Lubash's junior at 6, boasts the better accolades of the rivals. Having made work of his challengers with a two-length score in the Ashley T. Cole on September 20, the Kitalpha gelding, owned by Paul Braverman and Timothy Pinch, is poised to defend his victory in last year's Mohawk, in which he assumed control and drew clear to finish 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Lubash. Slated as the tepid 2-1 favorite on the morning line, Kharafa, trained by Tim Hills, will be ridden by Javier Castellano from post position 3.
Aliyu Ben J Stables' Lubash, trained by Christophe Clement, is still looking for his first win in the Mohawk, having finished second in three prior editions. The 8-year-old millionaire, who strung together a three-race win streak earlier this year, including a one-length victory over Kharafa in the Kingston, was handed his first off-the-board finish in more than two years, a fourth-place effort in the Cole. Installed at 5-2, the son of Freud will break from post 6 under regular rider Junior Alvarado.
Also set to line up in the starting gate for the Mohawk are Ashley T. Cole second- and third-place runners Runaway Posse and Iron Power, Birchwood Rose, Notacatbutallama, Front, Orino and With Exultation.
The Empire Showcase Day finale, the $200,000 Ticonderoga for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf, will feature Grade 1 winner Discreet Marq, who will look to bounce back off a fifth-place finish as the odds-on favorite in the Yaddo Stakes on August 28 at Saratoga. The 5-year-old daughter of Discreet Cat commenced her year with a win in the Grade 3 Beaugay at Belmont, and then finished a solid third in the Grade 1 Just A Game, 1 ¼ lengths behind top turf miler Tepin. The gray mare, tabbed as the 8-5 morning-line favorite, will go out for trainer Christophe Clement and owner Moyglare Stud Farm.
Trained by Bruce Levine for Bloodlines Racing Parterships, Distorted Beauty will rejoin New York-bred company for the first time this year coming off a distant seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational. Prior to the Flower Bowl, the 4-year-old daughter of Invasor won a 1 1/8-mile optional claimer at the Spa by three-quarters of a length. She will break from the rail with Jose Ortiz aboard and sits at 5-1 on the morning line.
Old Harbor will look to build on an authoritative 3 ½-length tally in the John Hettinger Stakes on September 20 at Belmont. The Raffie's Majesty filly finished second in the Yaddo two starts ago, but had yet to win going two turns prior to her breakthrough in the John Hettinger. She is trained by Russell Cash for Joseph Birnbaum, and will leave from outermost post 12 with Elvis Trujillo named to ride.
Wonder Gal and Hot Stones, who between them have faced some of the top fillies and mares in the country this year, are expected to vie for favoritism as a field of 10 goes postward in Race 10, the $250,000 Empire Distaff.
Trained by Leah Gyarmati, the 3-year-old Wonder Gal will be moving back into state-bred company after seven straight Grade 1 or Grade 2 starts. Most recently, she tired to finish eighth behind Cavorting in the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga after having finished second to Include Betty in the Grade 1 Mother Goose, third to Curalina in the Grade 1 Acorn and fourth to Condo Commando in the Grade 2 Gazelle. The Treadway Stable color-bearer is 1-2-1 in four starts at Belmont, with her lone victory coming in her debut, a 14 ½-length score in the restricted Lynbrook last July.
Hot Stones, trained by Bruce Levine, comes off a sixth-place finish behind Wedding Toast in the Grade 1 Beldame Invitational on September 26. The 5-year-old mare, who became a graded stakes winner last year in the Grade 3 Bed o'Roses, has won two of her five 2015 starts, a 9 ¾-length victory in the Saratoga Dew at the Spa and a three-length victory in a one-mile optional claimer at Belmont.
With Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard, Hot Stones drew post position 8 and was tabbed the 5-2 program choice, while Wonder Gal will break directly outside her under Jose Lezcano.
The complexion of the $150,000 Iroquois for filly and mare sprinters depends on the status of multiple graded stakes winner and defending champion La Verdad, who also has been pre-entered by trainer Linda Rice in both the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and the Sprint next weekend at Keeneland. The 5-year-old daughter of Yes It's True is 5-for-5 this year, all in stakes, with her most recent score coming over Breeders' Cup contenders Wavell Avenue and Dame Dorothy in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap.
Should she start in the 6 ½-furlong Iroquois, carded as Race 4, the Lady Sheila Stable color-bearer would be the 3-5 favorite over 10 rivals, chief among them Tricky Zippy, a 4 ½-length winner of the Union Avenue at Saratoga in her first start for new trainer Jimmy Jerkens. Last time out, the City Zip filly - 6-1 on the morning line - was fifth, beaten six lengths in the Grade 2 Prioress behind winner Cavorting.
Looking to remain perfect in three starts when she faces 11 in the $250,000 Maid of the Mist for 2-year-old fillies at one mile is Melodic for Treadway Racing Stable and trainer Leah Gyarmati. A daughter of Tale of the Cat, she won her debut at odds of 8-1 in a state-bred maiden special weight on September 2 at Saratoga and followed up taking the Joseph A. Gimma Stakes by three lengths at Belmont on September 27.
Nirvana Stables will enter 2-1 morning-line favorite She's All Ready for trainer Jimmy Ryerson. Impressively winning her debut by eight lengths, she went on to capture the $200,000 Seeking the Ante at Saratoga before finishing third in the Grade 1 Frizette over a sloppy main track on October 3 at Belmont.
Drawing the rail, trainer Kiarian McLaughlin will saddle Trappe Play for NYKY Thoroughbred Stable. A daughter of Trappe Shot, she impressively won her debut on September 23 at Belmont by 2 ¾ lengths racing wide from post 10. Trainer Todd Pletcher will enter a pair of contenders for owner Mike Repole in Surprise Cameo, who last out finished third in the Joesph A. Gimma, and Super Surprise,who finished fourth.
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