When the Breeders’ Cup was first contested back in 1984, I felt just like a kid on Christmas morning. Opening that day’s racing form was as great a feeling as tearing open the most carefully wrapped gift under the tree. While Christmas morning has long since become more about giving than receiving, the horses assembled for each and every Breeders’ Cup since never fails to bring joy to this now — well, let’s say more experienced fan of racing. As good as it is, though, there is another day in American racing which has come to rival the Breeders’ Cup in my heart. Belmont Stakes Day is that good.
The Belmont Stakes racing card may not offer everything that the Breeders’ Cup does, but it’s close. In fact, in one important way, it outdoes even the end of the year championships. Of course, I’m referring to the all mighty quest for racing’s holy grail. And this year, happily, we have an opportunity to see a Triple Crown completed at Belmont Park on June 9. While the potential coronation of Justify, allowing him direct entry into racing’s most coveted of private clubs, is the headliner, the rest of the card cannot, and must not, be overlooked.
Ten stakes races, nine graded, six of them Grade 1, will litter the Belmont program on the second Saturday of June. In fact, the only non-Grade 1 or Grade 2 stakes race of the day is the Easy Goer, which always seems to attract nice horses, such as last year’s winner, and eventual champion, West Coast. Yes, all eyes will be on Justify, but from a racing standpoint, I am just as excited about some of these other races.
The Grade 1 Acorn will bring together three of the most accomplished 3yo fillies in the land. Monomoy Girl rightfully stands tall in the division currently. In only three starts so far this year, the daughter of Tapizar has done a little bit of everything. First overcoming a bad start to win the Rachel Alexandra Stakes, before romping home in the Grade 1 Ashland, and battling her way to victory in the Kentucky Oaks. The Acorn will be no easy test, as she looks to stay perfect in 2018. Midnight Bisou was very impressive in winning three straight stakes in California, before battling a track bias and a wide trip to come home third in the Oaks. Meanwhile, the 2yo Filly Champion, Caledonia Road has made only a single start since winning the Breeders’ Cup last fall, when she rallied home to win an allowance race.
Like the Acorn, the $1.2 million Met Mile will be contested around one exciting turn going a flat mile. Consistently one of my favorite races of the year, this edition should be no different. Can Bolt d’Oro take advantage of the big weight break against older horses and bounce back from his Kentucky Derby fade? Will Mind Your Biscuits build upon his win in Dubai with another powerful stretch run? Can McCraken prove that he belongs in the discussion as one of America’s top milers? Will Warrior’s Club continue to bring thrills of a lifetime to his many, many owners? All these questions and more will be answered in this stallion making affair.
This year’s Ogden Phipps will feature a rematch of Abel Tasman and her rival Salty. As rivalries go, this one, between the two daughters of Quality Road, is becoming America’s most consistent. In her championship season of 2017, Abel Tasman defeated Salty on four different occasions. Among those meetings was last year’s Acorn, where she held off a wide Salty by one length. 2018 is a new year, though, and Salty finally gained a measure of revenge when she rolled to victory in the La Troienne at Churchill Downs, while the champion could only manage fourth in her seasonal debut. The Ogden Phipps will mark their sixth meeting, all of which are Grade 1 races.
And the list goes on … The 7 furlong Woody Stephens is always an intriguing affair, both on paper, and on the track, while the Grade 1 Manhattan, for the boys, and the Grade 1 Just A Game, for the girls, are two of our most important turf races in the first half of the year. You get the idea. It will be one excellent race after another on this star-studded race card.
God willing, the sun will shine on Belmont Park and all those in attendance. This Triple Crown, and this racing card, deserves nothing less.
Photo of Monomoy Girl courtesy of Coady Photography