In the end, the Stars & Stripes Festival belonged to the Americans. It was Phipps Stable’s Mr Speaker by a neck over Coolmore’s Adelaide in Saturday’s $1.25 million Belmont Derby, and the Chad Brown-trained Minorette (who began her career in Ireland and also is owned by Coolmore partners) as a decisive two-length winner in the $1 million Belmont Oaks.
The day was an experiment by The New York Racing Association (NYRA), an effort to attract international competitors for a pair of rich, rebranded turf races, and along with a trio of graded dirt contests, create a notable day in the otherwise quiet period between the Belmont Stakes in early June and the start of the Saratoga Race Course meet in mid-July.
By all accounts, it worked. NYRA reported an attendance of 11,184, which seems like a generous turnout for a major American holiday weekend usually devoted to pyrotechnics, beaches, and barbecues. The on-track crowd wagered $2.8 million on the 10-race card, up 56.8 percent from last year when a reported 5,047 attendees bet $1.8 million. NYRA compared the Stars and Stripes Festival with the July 6 card from 2013, which was marked by 11 races (two graded stakes). Year-over-year, the total handle was up 37.2 percent from $13.7 million to $18.8 million.
The on-track crowd was lively and engaged, cheering raucously through the stretch and clapping as winners galloped back to be unsaddled. The weather, helpfully, was flawless – brilliantly sunny, warm but not oppressively hot, and hardly humid. Food trucks dotted the backyard area and the track put on a variety of supplementary activities for families.
Although American-based horses prevailed in the two international contests, the races attracted seven shippers from England, Ireland, and France, two of whom – Pornichet and Gailo Chop – boasted top-notch Australian connections.
“We unfortunately only got the seven horses, I did have the idea we’d get a few more, we lost John Gosden’s filly at the last minute and a couple of Irish fillies that we expected to get, but that’s just racing,” said Adrian Beaumont, director of racecourse services for the International Racing Bureau, which NYRA enlisted for help with recruitment.
“We had a great response from all the horsemen,” he continued. “They love the prize money, the race conditions – 3-year-olds only – and it’s nice to come back to Belmont Park. There’s generally, I think, a feeling now that we are wanted and loved here at Belmont Park, which is important to the horsemen. Martin [Panza, NYRA’s senior vice president of racing operations] was able to offer us some travel incentives, which also helps. There is now a feel-good factor about racing here, and it’s just a really good meeting.”
THIS WEEK’S TOP TEN
Sires with more runners in Australia than elsewhere
|1 - Shamardal||1001pts||6 - Not A Single Doubt||968|
|2 - Street Cry||980||7 - Dylan Thomas||966|
|3 - Holy Roman Emperor||978||7 - Encosta De Lago||966|
|4 - Teofilo||977||7 - WrittenTycoon||966|
|5 - Fastnet Rock||971||10- Myboycharlie||964|
*According to TRC Global Rankings algorithm. Includes all rides in Group or Graded races worldwide in the last three years
Some additional factors also contributed to the ease of the trip for European horsemen, particularly the ability to complete quarantine at Belmont Park, where previously the quarantine barn had been set up at Aqueduct Racetrack, NYRA’s winter racing facility that is adjacent to John F. Kennedy Airport and approximately nine miles from Belmont.
“When we do these big international races it’s not just about getting the horses, you want the connections,” Beaumont said. “It’s good for the media if we can get some proper horsemen, and good jockeys to come. It’s great that we got the likes of François Doumen, Dermot Weld, Antoine de Watrigant, Jamie Osborne, and great jockeys like Pat Smullen, Jamie Spencer, Gérald Mossé. I think it adds an international aspect to the whole meeting.”
With Year One in the books, NYRA’s Panza is encouraged.
“Now that we've hosted it, I think people will become more aware of it,” Panza said. “I think next year, we'll look to have a stronger field size early in the card and perhaps add a stake or two. I was pleased with the European response for the first year, and I'd like to reach out to Australia, New Zealand, and Japan in the future."
Beaumont, too, felt the day has helped put New York – Belmont and Saratoga – back on the international map.
“I think it’s something that will grow,” Beaumont said. “I’ve had lots of inquires, and we’ll have some horses coming in for Saratoga, some fillies coming in for the 3-year-old filly program, so, I think suddenly it’s becoming a bit of a destination.”
That’s the idea.