Even as the New York Racing Association cuts racing days in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, organization officials announced its 27-day Belmont Park fall meet. That schedule features 38 stakes races worth $5.58 million in purse money.

Belmont Park Fall Meet
The Belmont Park turf will provide the scene for some of Big Sandy’s best fall races, including several Grade 1 events. (Image: NYRA/Coglianese Photo)

NYRA officials announced Wednesday that they are cutting days from both the Belmont and Aqueduct meets in an effort to sustain purse sizes. This came in response to a financial squeeze suffered by the closure of a cash-cow casino and spectator-free racing since the pandemic outbreak in March.

This pushed back Belmont’s opening day a week to Sept. 18. Normally, Big Sandy opens the Friday after Labor Day – Saratoga’s traditional closing day. But the NYRA adjusted for the missing dates by pushing opening day back a week.

“This new fall schedule is the result of a collaborative effort between NYRA, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and the New York Thoroughbred Breeders to modify our racing calendar in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the industry,” NYRA President and CEO David O’Rourke said in a statement.

You’ll See Several Breeders’ Cup Contenders Here

Belmont Park will feature racing each Thursday through Sunday from Sept. 18 to Nov. 1. The exception comes on Columbus Day weekend, when the track features a Columbus Day card on Monday, Oct. 12.

The 27-day meet features 22 graded stakes, including seven Grade 1s and seven Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” qualifying events. The Grade 1 parade begins opening weekend with the $250,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational. That’s the second leg of the Turf Triple series for 3-year-old fillies that takes them 10 furlongs along the turf.

The Oct. 3 card features five graded stakes races. Those races include two Grade 1s, the 1 ¼-mile Belmont Turf Invitational, which gives the winner a ticket into the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, a 1 ½-mile turf test for 3-year-olds and up. The Belmont Turf Invitational is the second leg of the Turf Triple for colts and geldings.

Handicappers Explore Deep Columbus Day Card

Not to be outdone is the Columbus Day weekend card, which offers nine graded stakes races, including four Grade 1s. Those include the 1 ¼-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, which sends the winner into the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and the Champagne Stakes, which punches the winner’s ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. You may have heard of last year’s winner of the mile race for 2-year-olds: Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes champion Tiz the Law.

The other two Grade 1s that weekend are the 1 ¼-mile Flower Bowl for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up, and the Frizette, a one-turn mile for juvenile fillies. The Flower Bowl sends its winner to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. The Frizette sends its champion to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Belmont Park Doesn’t Forget its Roots

Along with those graded stakes come 10 stakes races for New York-bred horses. Eight of those come on Empire Showcase Day (Oct. 24), when the track honors all things New York.

As of now, Belmont Park plans running without spectators. NYRA officials said it will update its COVID-19 protocols for horsemen, jockeys, owners, and staff in the coming days.