Today, the NYRA announced an expanded day of stakes races built around Belmont Stakes day. Despite the deviation from tradition with respect to when the Met Mile is run, I can’t help but be excited about what just might be a Breeders’ Cup caliber day of racing at Belmont in early June.
However, the most surprising – and exciting – change being made isn’t happening on the day of the Belmont, but the day before. Just last week, I had a brief conversation on Twitter with @heylaserbeam in response to Illinois horsemen’s complaints about the American St. Leger. For those who may not be familiar, the American St. Leger is a relatively new race run at Arlington Park on International Festival of Racing day (or, maybe more familiarly, Arlington Million day). It is a 1 11/16 mile race on the turf, first run in 2012. Illinois horsemen were complaining, rather obviously because there are not a lot of local (or even American) horses bred to run such a distance. As a fan, however, I was excited to see the race renewed for another year. I enjoy watching long horse races, both because of the strategy involved and because I marvel at the stamina required to run them well. At one point, I commented, “…though i know how absurd and unlikely this sounds, i would love to see more rich distance races, so people would consider breeding distance horses here.” I hashtagged this comment “#pipedream”.
This year, Belmont is running a new race on Friday, June 6. It is the $200,000 Belmont Gold Cup, being run at a distance of two miles on the turf.
Between the Brooklyn Invitational and the Belmont Stakes (both a mile and a half on the dirt), and now this, the first weekend in June is shaping up to be a bonanza for fans who enjoy long distance races. This is exactly the thing I want to see: more major tracks hosting more long-distance races for significant purses. The addition of the Gold Cup alone, of course, is not going to make my pipe dream a reality, but it’s a step in the right direction.
More than anything, I want the Belmont Gold Cup to be enough of a success this year that more tracks decide to card some marathon-length races. Then, and only then, will it start occurring to more breeders on this side of the pond that breeding true distance horses might be a good idea.