Belmont Park celebrated all things New York with its annual Empire Showcase Day, a unique 11-race all-state-bred card, including eight stakes races worth a total of $ 1.75 million in purses, despite the forecasted rain on Saturday afternoon as Royal Posse vindicated his narrow defeat in last year’s $ 300,000 Empire Classic Handicap with a 3 ½-length score over Governor Malibu in the day’s featured race and Bar of Gold splashed home a runaway winner of the $ 250,000 Empire Distaff.
Trainer Rudy Rodriguez, jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., and owner Michael Dubb picked up their second win of the day with Royal Posse in the 41st running of the Empire Classic. Sent off as the 5-2 second-choice settled well off the rail in third early, as the pacesetter Wake Up in Malibu led the field of eight through an opening quarter-mile in 24.45 seconds and the half in 48.61. Royal Posse, who was second by three-quarters of a length to Empire Dreams in the 2015 Classic, wrested away control as the field reached the top of the stretch and drew off to a comfortable victory over 6-5 favorite Governor Malibu.
The 5-year-old son of Posse returned $ 7.90 for a $ 2 win wager and completed the 1 1/8 miles over a sloppy and sealed track in 1:52.15.
“He’s a very honest horse,” said Rodriguez. “He always trained good and we’re just very blessed to have him in the barn. I didn’t have much concern with the track conditions because he won in Florida on a sloppy and sealed track and he’s a very game horse.”
Picking up his fourth win in eight starts this year, Royal Posse boosted his career record to 10 wins and 10 seconds from 33 starts and earnings of $ 901,245.
Empire Dreams finished third, 3 ¾ lengths behind Governor Malibu. Pax in Terra, Hit It Once More, Good Luck Gus, Clifton Pleasure and Wake Up in Malibu completed the order of finish.
Earlier on the card, the winning connections teamed up with Bonita Bianca to score in the $ 250,000 Maid of the Mist for juvenile fillies. Sent off at 6-5, the Curlin filly turned for home three-wide to overtake her pacesetting stablemate Tainted Angel and post a 5 ¼-length victory in her stakes debut.
Returning $ 4.40 for the win, Bonita Bianca completed the one-mile distance in 1:40.19.
Two races before the Classic, Chester and Mary Broman’s homebred Bar of Gold delivered as the 4-5 favorite in the Empire Distaff for fillies and mares with an impressive 18-length romp in the slop.
Trained by John Kimmel, Bar of Gold settled in fifth early under Joel Rosario as Isabelle took the field of six through an opening quarter-mile in 23.70 seconds and the half in 47.67, pressed along by Jules N Rome and Jc’s Shooting Star. In the middle of the turn, Bar of Gold boldly slipped between rivals near the three-eighths pole and burst to the lead, opening up by daylight in the stretch to secure her first victory since winning the Critical Eye by 1 ½ lengths on May 30.
Making her first start at 1 1/16 miles since finishing fourth in the 2015 Delaware Oaks, the 4-year-old Medaglia d’Oro filly paid $ 3.70 for a $ 2 win wager and completed the route in 1:43.10.
“We always had a question about her distance capabilities,” said Kimmel. “I got to thinking more and more about it trying to get this filly off the pace and giving her a chance to settle was always what I’ve been targeting for her.
Mecke’s Madalyn was second, followed by Jules N Rome, Literata, Isabelle and Jc’s Shooting Star to round out the order of finish. Highway Star, Super Surprise and Wonder Gal were scratched.
Donegal Racing’s Brother O’Connell proved an off-going was no problem at all, holding off even-money favorite Tapitation by a neck to pick up his first stakes win in an off-the-turf edition of the $ 200,000 Mohawk.
Making his first start on a wet track, the 4-year-old Giant’s Causeway colt battled with veteran warrior King Kreesa through opening fractions of 24.03 and 48.15 under Hall of Famer John Velazquez. No sooner than Brother O’Connell had put away King Kreesa, the Tom Morley trainee was met with a strong challenge from the Ralph Nicks-trained Tapitation. Brother O’Connell dug in as the duo hooked up in a fierce battle to wire.
Sent off at 9-2, Brother O’Connell returned $ 11.20 for a $ 2 win wager, completing the 1 1/16 miles in 1:47.23.
Macagone, King Kreesa and The Crocheron Kid completed the order of finish. Kharafa, Latigo Trail, Lubash and Offering Plan were scratched.
Marc Keller’s Quezon got the day’s stakes action off to a sharp start with a 5 ¼-length score in the 38th running of the $ 150,000 Iroquois for fillies and mares, 3-years-old and up, at 6 ½ furlongs.
Favored at 1-5, jockey Javier Castellano had Quezon stalk Court Dancer’s early fractions of 23.73 seconds for a quarter-mile and 45.74 for a half before moving her to the outside to overtake Court Dancer near the top of the stretch. The 4-year-old Bobby Ribaudo-trainee hit the wire in 1:16.38 to return $ 2.50 to win.
Wonderment, Court Dancer and Frosty Margarita completed the order of finish. E Warfare was eased before the wire. Hot City Girl was scratched.
Breakin the Fever won his third consecutive race, and seventh in his last eight races, capturing the 39th running of the $ 150,000 Hudson for 3-year-olds and up.
Owned, bred and trained by Debra Breed, Breakin the Fever quickly recovered from hitting the gate out of the break and surged to the front in posting fractions of 22.84, 46.36 and 1:10.79. Jockey Nazario Alvarado urged him in the stretch as Breakin the Fever outlasted a challenging Weekend Hideaway by a half-length, hitting the wire to complete 6 ½ furlongs in 1:16.97. Off as the 2-5 favorite, Breakin the Fever paid $ 2.70.
Drama King and Candid Desire rounded out the four-horse field. Ostrolenka was scratched.
Posting the biggest stakes upset of the day, Pat On the Back went right to the front and never looked back, skipping his way to a 1 ½-length victory in the $ 250,000 Sleepy Hollow for 2-year-olds. It was the for the chestnut colt.
Sent off at 20-1, Pat On the Back swept through opening fractions of 23.61 and 47.45 under Dylan Davis, dismissing his challengers to complete the mile in 1:40.08 for trainer Ken McPeek and owners Harold Lerner LLC, AWC Stables and the Nehoc Stables. The winner paid $ 43.20.
Tellmeafookystory was second, followed by Gold for the King, Mr. Buff, Macho Miah, Eddie’s Gift, Mission Command, Haul Anchor, Runaway Lute. Hampton’s Holiday scratched.
Joseph Birnbaum’s homebred Old Harbor set sail in the day’s penultimate stakes, taking the off-the-turf $ 200,000 Ticonderoga by 6 ¾-lengths, ridden by Manny Franco for trainer Russell Cash.
Returning $ 7.80 for the victory, the winner completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:46:05.
Tahoe Tigress, Flipcup, Selenite, Carameaway, Invading Humor and The Tea Cups completed the order of finish.
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