Originally scheduled to open April 24 for a 51-day spring/summer meet, live thoroughbred racing at Belmont Park got underway Wednesday with all health and safety protocols in place and without fans.
The 10-race opening day card generated a record-breaking all-sources handle of $10,972, 254, surpassing the previous opening day mark of $10.7 million in 2010.
Highlighting the day was the first of 40 stakes races planned for the abbreviated 25-day meet, the Grade 3, $100,000 Beaugay at 1 1/16-miles on the turf, won by Rushing Fall with jockey Javier Castellano aboard.
"I give all the credit to Mr. [Chad] Brown,” Castellano said. “He told me in the paddock that he wanted me to be on the lead. I saw two horses that had speed, but he's the master. He knows what he's doing and he knows the horses so well. I just followed the instructions.”
The first race at Belmont in 2020, a 6 ½-furlong dirt event, was captured in dominant fashion by Star of the West, ridden by Reylu Gutierrez. Owned and trained by Rudy Rodriguez, Star of the West won by 5 ½ lengths.
“It was a great trip. My horse helped me a lot,” Gutierrez said. "We were a little slow out of the gate but [Rodriguez] was very confident if this horse got the lead or a forward position, that we would be in a great position to finish. I just didn't want to let go of my position,” he added.
Before the opening race, the jockey colony stood in the paddock for a moment of silence in honor of those lost to Covid-19 and to pay tribute to the medical professionals, first responders and front-line workers. The colony then took a knee after the moment of silence in solidarity with peaceful protesters across the country.
“There's a lot going on in the world right now and we wanted to show respect to all causes, and to all people, and to show that we here at NYRA support everybody,” Gutierrez said.
June 3 marked the first time the New York Racing Association conducted a card in 80 days. The Aqueduct meet was suspended in mid-March due to the pandemic and never resumed.
Beginning next week, racing will be held Thursday through Sunday, with a first post time of 1:15 p.m. The meet will conclude Sunday, July 12, before the action shifts upstate to Saratoga through Labor Day. Racing is expected to resume at Belmont during the second week of September.
A condensed stakes schedule for the spring/summer meet will feature races worth $7 million, including 22 graded stakes. Anchoring the schedule is the 152nd running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 20, as the first leg of the Triple Crown series, a historic first for the crown jewel of thoroughbred racing. Traditionally run at 1 1/2-miles, this year's edition of the Belmont will be contested at nine furlongs (1 1/8-miles) and broadcast live on NBC.