“And they’re off at Belmont Park”

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The New York Racing Association shifts venues to Belmont Park for the start of the spring-summer meeting Friday with the first of 58 live cards. To coincide with the meet John Shapazian, who tabbed an area-based 130 winners in 2016 at Saratoga in The Saratoga Special, will provide race-by-race selections for the weekend cards at Belmont.

Shapazian hit for a strike race of nearly 32 percent at the Saratoga meet, where he’s led all public handicappers on multiple occasions. He learned the game as a youngster in Rhode Island, going to the races with his uncles William Samarajczyk and Charles Shapazian. While he described the latter uncle as an “astrology guy” for his handicapping methods, Shapazian himself does it the old fashioned way by studying replays and reading past performances and charts.

“Most kids when they are growing up their heroes are Mickey Mantle, mine was Russ Harris,” Shapazian said of his early days at the races and looking up to the longtime public handicapper for the New York Daily News.

A graduate of the University of Connecticut and retired professor of finance after a 30-year career at the State University of New York at Canton, Shapazian started his stint with The Special in the daily publication’s second year in 2002. He’ll back back to defend his title when the first issue rolls off the press for Opening Day Friday, July 21. In the meantime, here are John’s picks for Friday, April 28.


Race 1

THEBIGFUNDAMENTAL had a rough start at Gulfstream, the one to beat. CLEAR N CONVINCING may improve, picks up Irad Ortiz. ASHBY’S REBEL YELL, a first-timer by Blame, has a series of steady drills. 6-7-1


Race 2

SET THE TRAPPE appears to be the main speed, may get loose on the lead. SARATOGA MISCHIEF takes a huge drop for Pletcher. OPEN BAR takes on winners. 6-8-7


Race 3

MINERALOGY stretches out to a mile, narrow margin. HEMSWORTH broke his maiden in the Grade 2 Nashua figures close. MR. DOUGIE FRESH fits with these. 1-5-2


Race 4

BOB, first-time gelding, first-time Lasix, first-time Jose Ortiz, the one to beat. WONDERMEISTER drops in for a tag. SQUEAKERS SHADOW returns to the lawn. 8-6-12


Race 5

MATCH UP gets an edge in an events where you can make a case for many. MARRIAGE FEVER should be part of the early pace. OLD UPSTART may sit the perfect trip from the outside post. 5-1-6


Race 6

EPPING FOREST returns to face state breds after wintering in Florida. FABULOUS LADY is shipping in from California, picks up Castellano. SOMERSET SANDY can be part of exotic wagers. 12-6-9


Race 7

TAKE THESE CHAINS is coming off a 10-month hiatus goes for three straight. WIDTH was an impressive at Tampa Bay Downs. COVER SONG would be no surprise. 5-4-11


Race 8

WEEKEND HIDEAWAY gets a narrow margin in a competitive event. OSTROLENKA is the horse for the course, 4-for-7 at “Big Sandy.” RECTIFY could be the one to catch. 13-4-3


Race 9

DREAM A LITTLE, 4-year-old by Freud, takes on younger rivals. SUMMER SWEET adds Lasix and returns to the sod. SILLY SILVER debuts for Linda Rice, often scores with firsters on the grass. 1-7-10