State-breds take center stage at Belmont Park
By NY Hot List Staff
Empire Showcase Day will never be confused with the Breeders’ Cup, but with the World Championships two weeks away, Saturday’s card at Belmont Park offers a slate of eight entertaining stakes for the top horses bred in New York State.
While the Empire Showcase card cannot match the Breeders’ Cup in terms of the size, quality and depth of the fields, it does provide an array of evenly matched races featuring some quality runners who are highly consistent in their division.
The best example of this can be found in the richest of the stakes, the $300,000 Empire Classic.
Heading a small field of five in the 1 1/8-mile test is Pat On the Back, who won the race last year and has been a gem of consistency at Belmont Park.
In 12 starts at Belmont Park, Pat On the Back has six wins, three seconds and two thirds, and his last start was probably his best. Facing open competition, he rallied from fifth and notched a half-length victory in the Kelso Handicap, a Grade 2 stakes.
The victory was the first for Pat On the Back in open stakes company.
On the other hand, he has seven stakes wins in state-bred company, including a 1 ½-length victory in last year’s Empire Classic.
Should he win Saturday, it would make Pat On the Back only the second horse to win the Empire Classic in back-to-back years, joining Spite the Devil in 2004-05.
His main challenger Saturday also faced Pat On the Back in last year’s Empire Classic. Mr. Buff set the pace in the 1 1/8-mile test a year ago but weakened in the stretch to finish third, 2 ½ lengths behind Pat On the Back.
Ike Pat On the Back, Mr. Buff ran in a graded stakes last time out. He tackled some of the best older distance horses in the country in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes on closing weekend at Saratoga. The 5-year-old set the early pace but then tired and wound up seventh in a race won by Preservationist.
Prior to that, he was a convincing winner of a pair of state-bred stakes, the Evan Shipman and the Saginaw, by a combined margin of 9 ¾ lengths.
Mr. Buff was also third behind Pat On the Back in the Commentator Stakes earlier this year.
Also in the field of five is the speedy 3-year-old Not That Brady, who will vie with Mr. Buff for the early lead.
Not That Brady was sixth in a turf race in his last start and fourth in the Albany Stakes at Saratoga before that. Earlier in the year he was second in the open Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct against 3-year-old Triple Crown hopefuls.
The rest of the field includes Blugrascat’s Smile and Dynamax Prime.