Belmont Park showcases New York-breds
By Bob Ehalt
If you like New York racing, then Saturday’s Empire Showcase Day at Belmont Park is right up your alley.
You will not see any of the stars at the upcoming Breeders’ Cup on the card, but there are eight stakes for New York State-breds with a combined value of about $1.7 million that should comprise an entertaining day of racing with a lot of familiar faces.
The featured race of the day is the $300,000 Empire Classic Handicap, a mile-and-an-eighth test for 3-year-olds and up.
The race drew a bulky field of 10 with Pat On the Back listed as the 5-2 favorite.
A 4-year-old colt, Pat On the Back has come of age this year, finishing first or second in his last four races.
Most recently, he was beaten by a neck by Can You Diggit in the Evan Shipman Stakes at Saratoga. Prior to that, he won the Saginaw Stakes at Belmont for trainer Jeremiah Englehart.
His most impressive performance, however, came in the Commentator Stakes on May 28 at Belmont Park when lost by a nose to Diversify, who went on to win the Suburban and Whitney against some of the year’s top older horses.
Like Pat On the Back, Can You Diggit (7-2 morning line) has not raced since the Shipman, where he posted his second victory in seven 2018 starts.
Can You Diggit was third in last year’s Empire Classic, losing by three lengths, and on Saturday he will meet up with the two horses who finished in front of him in 2017.
Twisted Tom (10-1) has only raced twice since winning last year’s race by three lengths for trainer Chad Brown. He was fourth in the Saginaw after a nine-month layoff and then fifth in the Shipman.
Since then, he has switched barns and is now trained by Michael Stidham.
Control Group (9-2) was second under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. in the 2017 Empire Classic, finishing a nose ahead of Can You Diggit.
He won the Grade 3 Discovery Stakes against open company after that runner-up finish and then tacked on wins in the Alex M. Robb and Mr. Sinatra before he hit a bump in the road, finishing fifth in both the Grade 3 Excelsior and the Commentator.
Since then, Control Group has been on an upswing, winning a pair of allowance races at Finger Lakes and finishing third in the Shipman, just 1 ½ lengths behind Can You Diggit.
“He’s coming into the race good. The distance is good for him,” said trainer Rudy Rodriguez. “Last year he was second or third the whole way around in the Classic. I’ll let Irad ride the horse. He knows the horse well. Whatever the jockey decides to do is fine with me. Once they break from the gate, everything changes.”
The rest of the field includes Blugrascat’s Smile (30-1), Calculated Risker (20-1), Evaluator (15-1), Wine Not (8-1), Sea Foam (12-1), Hit It Once More (10-1) and Mr. Buff (12-1).
The 11-race card starts at 12:30 p.m.