Cape Blanco winning the Man o'War Stakes at Belmont Park in 2011PICTURE: Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos
New million-dollar turf races at Belmont Park
USA: European horses are likely to be attracted by a pair of revamped million-dollar turf races to be staged at Belmont Park in July after a major overhaul of the New York track's calendar.
The inaugural Stars & Stripes Day will be held on July 5, featuring $1.25m Belmont Derby Invitational and the $1m Belmont Oaks Invitational for fillies.
Both races are 1m2f turf races for three-year-olds, formerly known as the Jamaica and Garden City Handicap respectively and run as part of the Belmont autumn programme. However, even though the races have been moved lock, stock and barrel to a different part of the programme, they are able to retain Grade 1 status.
As Belmont puts all its eggs into three baskets, the July 5 programme will also feature the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap, the Grade 3 Belmont Sprint Championship (formerly James Marvin) and the Grade 2 Dwyer. These three races will carry purses of $1.1m in total.
In another significant move, the Belmont Stakes meeting is now being promoted as the Belmont Stakes Festival and stretched over three days from June 6-8.
With $7.7m in prize-money, Belmont Stakes day, Saturday June 7, is now the second-richest card on the North American calendar behind only Breeders' Cup Saturday. Supporting the final leg of the Triple Crown will be five more Grade 1s - the Metropolitan Handicap (Met Mile), the Ogden Phipps, the Manhattan, the Acorn and the Just A Game.
A couple of Grade 2s and a Grade 3 will also feature on Belmont Stakes day, while the Friday card on June 6 features an intriguing new turf contest in the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational over 2m, making it the longest race in the US calendar and real throwback to the sport's history.
The third new card in Belmont's spring-summer schedule is a major shake-up on May 11, now branded a Mother's Day card and set to feature three Graded stakes headed by the Man o'War Stakes. Previously run in July, the Grade 1 event is often targeted by European horses, with recent winners including Daylami, Fantastic Light, Doctor Dino, Red Rocks and Cape Blanco.