Belmont Park’s 54-day Spring/Summer Meet got under way on the first day of May, with Mei Ling winning the racetrack’s opening race of 2014, taking a one-mile dirt event in muddy conditions by almost six lengths with jockey Jose Ortiz aboard.
Mei Ling established control out of the gate and was hardly pressured in the Maiden Special Weight event, which had a purse of $75,000. She pulled away easily down the stretch and paid $9.10 to win. Make It Anywhere completed the exacta, and Kate Greenaway finished third. The trifecta paid $145.50.
“I’ve been on this horse before, and she has a lot of talent,” Ortiz said. “She came out strong and kept going.”
Ortiz added that it was exciting to be back at Belmont and to be the first jockey in the winner’s circle for 2014. “I love the NYRA circuit,” he said of the New York Racing Association. “Belmont is great and Aqueduct is great.”
The track boasts a wide array of improvements, including 131 new high-definition televisions as well as new HD screens in second-floor box seats for improved viewing of live and simulcast racing. Near the paddock, a new 8-x-15-foot video display wall has been installed by the walking ring, offering enhanced, HD picture quality.
The 146th running of the Belmont Stakes, set for Saturday, June 7, is the glittering centerpiece of the meet, which runs through July 13. The oldest and longest leg of horseracing’s Triple Crown, the 1½-mile Belmont will be supported by an incredible nine additional graded stakes, including five prestigious Grade 1 events: the $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap, the $1 million Ogden Phipps, the $1 million Manhattan, the $750,000 Longines Just a Game and the $750,000 Acorn. In total, the 13-race card will be worth $8 million, making New York’s Spring Championships the second-richest day on the North American racing calendar, behind only Breeders’ Cup Saturday.
A week before Belmont Stakes Day, Big Apple Showcase Day on Saturday, May 31, will feature six stakes worth $900,000, all restricted to horses bred in New York. The best of the Empire State also will be offered in the grandstand that weekend with the return of the TasteNY Farmers Market, featuring local produce and products.
Belmont will hold its inaugural Stars & Stripes Day on July 5, featuring a pair of Grade 1 contests for 3-year-olds on the grass, the $1.25 million Belmont Derby Invitational and the $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational. Also on the card are the Grade 2, $500,000 Suburban Handicap, the Grade 3, $400,000 Belmont Sprint Championship and the Grade 2, $200,000 Dwyer. Food trucks and Family Fun Day are among the promotions that will ensure an entertaining day for the whole family.
“Belmont Park is synonymous with great competition,” said New York Racing Association CEO and President Chris Kay, “and our racing team, led by Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Martin Panza and Racing Secretary Frank Gabriel Jr., is working every day with the goal of making the 2014 spring/summer meet the best ever. All who visit Belmont during the spring/summer meet will enjoy a more intimate and exciting experience and terrific guest-focused improvements and promotions.”
Twilight racing returns for four Fridays beginning June 20, with a special first-race post time of 3 p.m. and a party that includes food and drink specials.
From start to finish, family activities abound, including the popular Breakfast at Belmont program weekend mornings from 7 to 9:30 a.m., and Family Fun Days on Sundays, presented by Coca-Cola, except for Belmont Stakes weekend.
First-race post time is 1:20 p.m. except for twilight racing cards and Belmont Stakes Day (11:35 a.m.). Live racing generally takes place Wednesday through Sunday, with free parking, and grandstand/clubhouse admission set at $5.