Belmont steps up purses this year

Some stakes will have new names and larger purses at Belmont Park this year as the New York Racing Association plans two big days of racing at the spring/summer meet along with its previously announced Belmont Stakes Festival June 6-8.

The Belmont Stakes Festival, Stars & Stripes Day July 5, and a May 11 Mother's Day card featuring three graded stakes form the backbone of the track's spring/summer meet, which begins May 1 and continues through July 13. In all, the schedule contains 62 stakes races worth $17.95 million, including six races with purses of at least $1 million, and 16 overnight stakes with purses of $100,000 each.

June 7 is the most lucrative day on the schedule with $7.7 million in stakes purses, topped by the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, as well as five other Grade 1 races: the Metropolitan Handicap for 3-year-olds and up, the Ogden Phipps for fillies and mares 4-year-olds and up, the Manhattan Handicap for turf horses 4-year-olds and up, the Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, and the Longines Just a Game Stakes for fillies and mares on the turf.

Total purses for the day will be $8 million, making Belmont Stakes Day the second richest on the North American racing calendar behind only the second day of the Breeders' Cup World Championships.

Belmont will host its inaugural Stars & Stripes Day July 5. The holiday weekend extravaganza will include a pair of million-dollar contests: the $1.25 million Belmont Derby Invitational and the $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational. These races formerly were known as the Jamaica Handicap and the Garden City. Both the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks are 1 ¼-mile turf races for 3-year-olds, with the Oaks restricted to fillies.

Also on the July 5 card are the $500,000 Suburban Handicap, the $400,000 Belmont Sprint Championship (formerly the James Marvin), and the $200,000 Dwyer. The Suburban Handicap will be contested at the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles for the first time since 2009.

The $400,000 Man o' War, which had been contested in July since 2008, is scheduled for Mother's Day, May 11, and tops a card that also includes the $250,000 Ruffian, the $150,000 Westchester, and the $100,000 License Fee. The Man o' War will be televised live on FOX Sports 1 as part of "The Jockey Club Tour on FOX" series.

Big Apple Showcase Day will be held May 31, one week before Belmont Stakes Day, and will feature six stakes, all restricted to New York-breds, worth a combined $900,000.

Memorial Day, May 26, features three stakes topped by the $300,000 Poker to be run at one mile on the grass. Also on Memorial Day is the $200,000 Pennine Ridge which, along with the May 25 Wonder Again, serve as prep races for the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks. The first three finishers in both the Pennine Ridge and Wonder Again will be guaranteed invitations to the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks, respectively.

"We are hopeful that, given the lack of big money opportunities at a mile on the grass, the Poker could attract two-time defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan," said NYRA's senior vice president of racing operations Martin Panza. "The Pennine Ridge and Wonder Again are new races that should be especially popular with their guaranteed invitations to the Belmont Derby and Oaks attached. We anticipate that interest among horsemen in the Derby and Oaks could result in oversubscribed fields for those two seven-figure-purse races on July 5."

The Astoria for 2-year-old fillies and Tremont for 2-year-olds have returned to the stakes schedule for the first time since 2008 and will be held June 14 and 15, respectively.