Lots of weird New York racing history is being made with the arrival of the “Belmont at the Big A” meeting beginning Thursday.
For starters, the meet itself marks the first time in five decades that Aqueduct Racetrack will host race dates normally assigned to Belmont Park. That’s because the New York Racing Association (NYRA) is constructing a new tunnel system at Belmont Park to access the infield, clearing the way for a long-awaited track renovation, the installation of new fan areas and, potentially, a new synthetic racing surface to allow for racing at Belmont all year long.
The latter prospect may signal the beginning of the end for Aqueduct, as NYRA leadership has made clear its intention to eventually modernize Belmont Park and consolidate its downstate racing operations. But for now, Aqueduct is going to host some of the best thoroughbred racing in the country during the seven-week “Belmont at the Big A” meeting, from Sept. 15 through Oct. 30.
That includes four Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” qualifying races, something that’s never happened before at Aqueduct, which hosted the Breeders’ Cup just once, for its second running back in 1985.
Aqueduct will also make some steeplechase history on the first day of the meet Thursday; the Big A hasn’t seen a hurdle race since 1974, but two such contests will take place on Sept. 15, with the feature being the $150,000 Lonesome Glory Stakes, a grade 1 event for jumpers going 2 1/2 miles on the Aqueduct inner turf.
The “Belmont at the Big A” meet’s stakes schedule includes $9.9 million in purses for 41 races. The richest of them will be run this Saturday with two sophomore turf races rounding out NYRA’s Turf Triple series, including the grade 3, $1 million Jockey Club Derby at 1 1/2 miles for 3-year-old colts and the $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks for 3-year-old fillies going 1 3/8 miles.
The first two weekends of October will feature the final big preps on the road to the Breeders’ Cup in New York. Headlining the Oct. 1 card is the $500,000 Woodward Stakes for older horses going 1 ⅛ Miles – normally a one-turn race at Belmont, but run at two turns at Aqueduct – and the $500,000 Champagne Stakes for 2-year-old colts, the winner of the latter will earn a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
The following week features the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic for older horses on the grass; and the 7 furlong, $250,000 Vosburgh Stakes, a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event in the Sprint Division.
The other two Breeders’ Cup qualifiers at the Belmont at the Big A meet include the $500,000 Frizette Stakes for 2-year-old fillies on Oct. 2; and the $150,000 Futurity Stakes on Oct. 9 for juvenile turf sprinters.
Rounding out the Belmont at the Big A event will be a weekend of stakes action on Oct. 29 and 30, including the $300,000 Kelso Mile for older horses, which will serve as a prep for the Cigar Mile during Aqueduct’s regular fall meet; and New York Showcase Day on Oct. 30, featuring eight stakes races for the top New York-bred horses, headlined by the $250,000 Empire Classic.
General admission to Aqueduct is free; Longshots, Aqueduct’s sports bar, does have a cover charge of $10 per person ($5 for NYRA Bets members).
There’s also plenty of free parking available around the adjacent Resorts World New York City Casino, and you can get to the races by taking the A train to Aqueduct-North Conduit Avenue.
Daily post times for the Belmont at the Big A meet are 1 p.m. through Oct. 2 (except on Sept. 22 and 23, when the races go off at 2:05 p.m.); and 12:35 p.m. from Oct. 6-30.
After the “Belmont” meet wraps up, Aqueduct will transition into its regularly scheduled fall meeting, which starts Nov. 4. The racing will continue in Queens through next April.
Visit NYRA.com for further details.