The Empire Showcase Special

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The biggest day of the year for New York-breds arrives Saturday with the Empire Showcase at Belmont Park and the crew from The Saratoga Special is proud to roll out a special edition of The Showcase Special for the occasion. (Originally published for the New York Thoroughbred Breeders.)

Wow, that’s a lot of special but deservedly so considering an 11-race card worth $1,412,000. Showcase Day features eight stakes for horses bred in the Empire State worth $1.2 million, including the co-featured $175,000 Empire Classic and $175,000 Empire Distaff.

The Showcase Special goes race-by-race, providing the perfect primer and follow-along guide for horsemen, breeders, owners and fans of the New York Thoroughbred.

Here’s the primer for Saturday, Oct. 24. Safe trips to all and good luck.

Race 1. $70,000 maiden special weight. Noon. Full field of 12, along with three on also-eligible list and a main track only, for $70,000 turf maiden for 2-year-olds. John McClutchy’s homebred Arrowheart chased Breadman last time out and that one goes in stakes later in the card. Cotton hasn’t done a thing wrong in his three starts for trainer Mark Casse while Christophe Clement (Swashbuckle), Mike Maker (Vodka Lemonade), Jonathan Thomas (He’s a Lucky Devil) and Ray Handal (Humpday) send out well-meant firsters.

Race 2. $150,000 Maid of the Mist Stakes. 12:40 p.m. Party At Page’s overcame some trouble winning her second straight in the Lady Finger Stakes last time and needs to bounce back quick off 19-day turnaround. Chasing Cara might have been best in the Joseph A. Gimma last time. She lost all chance when she jumped at the start and still managed to finish third for owner-breeder Richard Greeley and trainer Mitch Friedman, who also send out Cara’s Dreamer in 1-mile test.

Race 3. $150,000 Sleepy Hollow Stakes. 1:15 p.m. Owner, breeder and trainer Richard Lugovich said he “expected to win” the Bertram F. Bongard with Hold the Salsa last time out and the Hold Me Back colt delivered on his expectations. Off the board in back-to-back stakes tries at Saratoga, Hold the Salsa ran his record to 2-for-2 at Belmont and looks to make it three here against impressive maiden winner Breadman, two he beat in the Bongard and three others.

Race 4. $150,000 Ticonderoga Stakes. 1:49 p.m. Lawrence Goichman’s homebred Myhartblongstodaddy made it look easy all the way on the lead winning the Yaddo last time for trainer Jorge Abreu. No doubt jockey Jose Lezcano will try similar tactics in 1 1/16-mile turf stakes against familiar foes Wegetsdamunnys and War Canoe.

Race 5. $70,000 maiden special weight. 2:22 p.m. Shorter trip – 7 furlongs – for this 2-year-old filly maiden that also drew a full field plus two AEs and 2 MTOs. Mark Casse sends out Hard Spun firster Pretty Clever, bred by Chester and Mary Broman and a $240,000 buy at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred yearling sale. Christophe Clement also runs a first-time starter bought at the same sale – for $230,000 – in the Shanghai Bobby filly Home for Christmas.

Race 6. $175,000 Empire Distaff Handicap. 2:53. Ratajkowski returns to defend her title in the co-feature against six other fillies and mares. Six-year-old Drosselmeyer mare didn’t get the cleanest of trips last time as the 6-5 favorite in the Union Avenue, finishing fifth, but she’s back to a more favorite distance of 1 1/16 miles. Jeremiah Englehart holds strong hand with last year’s New York-bred champion 2-year-old filly Critical Value and Fleet Indian Stakes winner Makingcents. The latter handled older foes back in June while the latter exits a prep going 1 mile against older open-company rivals. Mrs. Orb just missed in the Union Avenue and could continue strong year for trainer Mike Miceli.

Race 7. $125,000 Hudson Handicap. 3:26. Time to sprint. Nine line up for 7-furlong test, including trio of Big Engine, Tribecca and T Loves a Fight. They prepped for this finishing 1-2-3 in open optional Sept. 26. Arlington shipper Dugout makes his return to New York, where he won the Funny Cide at Saratoga and New York Breeders’ Futurity at Finger Lakes as a 2-year-old.

Race 8. $150,000 Mohawk Stakes. 3:59. Back to the grass and a West Point rematch between Rinaldi, Dot Matrix and Therapist. They were the first three under the wire that day, with Rinaldi doing it all the way on the lead. Expect similar tactics here for trainer Jim Bond and jockey Luis Saez but they face a tall order against Mike Maker’s Somelikeithotbrown and Cross Border. If either of those two, winners of graded stakes this summer at Saratoga, win it could pave the way to a New York-bred championship. Somelikeithotbrown already has one of those titles, last year’s 3-year-old male honor.

Race 9. $125,000 Iroquois Stakes. 4:31. Newly Minted, last year’s champion New York-bred 3-year-old filly, ran lights out winning the Union Avenue and draws rail here against nine others entered in 6 1/2-furlong stakes. The winner of last year’s Bouwerie and Fleet Indian will be tough against the likes of Finger Lakes shipper Spin a Yarn, Timely Tradition, Fair Regis and Officer Hutchy.

Race 10. $175,000 Empire Classic Handicap. 5:05. The co-feature and last stakes of the day is a good one with defending champ Mr. Buff in the field with multiple stakes winner and Grade 2 Vosburgh runner-up Funny Guy, 2019 New York Derby and graded stakes competitor Bankit, 2020 Albany winner Chestertown, 2018 Albany winner Sea Foam and last-out blowout winner Evaluator. Mr. Buff has handled his peers in four of his last five starts against New York-breds, including a 20-length score in the Haynesfield and a 7 ½-length tally in the Alex M. Robb. Those were at Aqueduct, but he’s just as effective at Belmont for trainer John Kimmel and owners-breeders Chester and Mary Broman. Funny Guy, fourth in the Grade 1 Forego run in a monsoon two back, figures to be a tough challenger. Son of Big Brown has won his last three against New York-breds, including strong score in the John Morrissey at Saratoga and Commentator at Belmont for trainer John Terranova.

Race 11. $72,000 allowance. 5:35. Close the card with 7-furlong turf event for older horses. The lightly raced duo of Advanced Strategy (Jimmy Jerkens) and Uncle George  (Christophe Clement) should be tough.