Enhanced purses and lucrative stakes schedule attracts trainers to Belmont Park spring/summer meet
by Keith McCalmont
Trainers Jim Chapman, Saffie Joseph, Jr. and Brittany Russell are among a number of conditioners that will have a presence at Belmont Park for the first time at the upcoming 48-day Belmont Park spring/summer meet that runs from Thursday, April 22 through Sunday, July 11.
The spring/summer meet will offer its highest ever overnight purse schedule supported by significant monetary increases across most race categories, including maiden special weight races featuring a purse of $90,000, while horsemen participating in the claiming ranks will compete for purse money ranging up to $100,000.
A total of 59 stakes races worth $16.95 million in purses will highlight the meet, including the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes set for June 5.
The 49-year-old Chapman, currently based in Kentucky, said he will have 12 stalls at Belmont and will focus on 2-year-old maiden races.
"If I can take down one of those $90,000 purses with one of my $10,000 horses, that's a homerun to me," said Chapman. "I'm going up there to sell horses, too. I'm taking my best horses to New York."
A multiple graded stakes-winning trainer, Chapman sports a ledger of 1,960-294-268-239 with more than $8.8 million in purse earnings. A former rider, Chapman is best known as the trainer of Caller One, who took back-to-back editions of the Group 1 Golden Shaheen in 2001-02 in Dubai.
An astute judge of young racing stock, Chapman’s best sales success came at the 2002 March Barretts Equine Limited Selected 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale with the eventual multiple graded stakes winner Atlantic Ocean, a Stormy Atlantic mare campaigned by Bob Baffert.
“I bought Atlantic Ocean for $31,000 at Keeneland and she brought $1.9 million at the sale,” said Chapman.
Chapman said he will look to capitalize on a bumper crop of yearling sale purchases now gearing up in Kentucky for their juvenile debuts this spring.
“I have 56 juveniles. I buy everything at Keeneland. Whether I buy in November and keep some and then flip some back in September as yearlings, I just try to keep the wheel turning," said Chapman. “I have some Frosted 2-year-olds that are really nice. I have a Fast Anna colt that will come to New York. There are some by Gun Runner and Empire Maker that will be ready later on."
The Fast Anna colt, Actualize, has already posted a pair of works at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Out of the Hard Spun mare Beijos Do Brasil, Actualize was purchased for $12,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
"You never know when they're that big and good looking if they're going to be big and slow or big and fast. But he is big and fast," said Chapman.
Chapman said he has the right stock to be competitive in the New York market and looks forward to the opportunity.
"This year I've bought a different caliber of horse and I have a lot of them," said Chapman. "I have horses that will fit up there and the money is a little bit better, so I'll bring my better horses. I love being up there in New York."
Chapman said he will look to win early at the Belmont meet and get the jump on some of the higher-priced yearling sale purchases who tend to debut later in the summer, at Belmont or Saratoga.
"It's not always the best horse that wins those early races. It's often the well-schooled ones," said Chapman. "I have enough 2-year-olds that I can see who does and doesn't want to do it. It may be a different story at Saratoga when the bigger horses start popping up, but maybe I can stir up some dust before those ones start going. And maybe I have some that will keep up and can go to Saratoga."
Chapman said he will ship to New York following opening weekend at Keeneland, which kicks off April 2.
"It's a different surface up there and you want to get a couple works over it,” said Chapman. “The starting gate is a little roomier than the gates they'll have used in Kentucky. When I go up there, I want to make it count when we run."
The veteran conditioner said owners Stuart Tsujimoto, along with Vanessa Camperlengo, co-founder of Classic Legacy Thoroughbred Aftercare, made the New York venture possible.
"They've really helped me this year. Stuart has been the backbone of my deal since I stopped riding and started training in California," said Chapman. "Vanessa has got more involved and has 25 horses with me. They trust me with their horses and it makes it easier. They're the reason that I'm able to do this."
Joseph, Jr. attracted national attention when Math Wizard scored an upset victory in the 2019 Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby. A native of Barbados who began training in south Florida in 2011, Joseph, Jr. enjoyed success in his home country, conditioning 2009 Barbados Triple Crown-champion Areyoutalkintome.
The veteran conditioner will have a notable presence on the Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino card on April 3 at Aqueduct Racetrack, with four possible starters, led by Mischevious Alex in the Grade 1, $300,000 Carter for older sprinters and Drain the Clock in the Grade 3, $200,000 Bay Shore for sophomore sprinters.
Joseph, Jr. said Grade 1-placed New York-bred Ny Traffic and New York-bred maiden claimer Michael’s Bad Boy are in line for a return on the Wood Memorial card, while he will also saddle Gibberish in the Grade 3, $150,000 Distaff Handicap for older filly and mare sprinters on April 2.
"He's at his best at one turn," said Joseph, Jr. of Mischevious Alex, who won the 2020 Grade 3 Gotham at the Big A. "At six furlongs he's really lethal because he has speed and stays strongly. But he's won at seven furlongs and I don't think that will be a problem for him."
Joseph, Jr. will look to fill 12 stalls at the Belmont spring/summer meet. The multiple graded stakes-winning conditioner said he is also hoping to take advantage of a "Ship & Win" program for horses based at Oaklawn Park who ship to compete at Aqueduct and Belmont Park.
Horses that made their previous start at Oaklawn may be able to take advantage of the program, which includes a 30 percent purse bonus for their first start for horses who last ran at Oaklawn in 2021 before shipping to New York. NYRA will also provide a $1,500 stipend for a start during either the Aqueduct spring or Belmont spring/summer meets, excluding stakes races, for eligible horses.
“We'll bring a variety of horses from claimers to stakes horses. We want to be active in all the divisions there,” said Joseph, Jr. “We'll be much more active in New York this year from Belmont on through Saratoga. The [ship and win] incentive for Oaklawn is enticing. Our claiming owners are interested in that. We’re looking for horses to bring back to New York. In general, we're going to hopefully run a lot of horses starting from the Wood.”
Joseph, Jr. won a pair of races last summer at Saratoga and said he is planning on bringing stronger stock to the Spa this year in search of a first NYRA circuit stakes win. The 40-day Saratoga summer meet, which will feature 76 stakes worth $21.5 million in total purses, runs from July 15 through September 6.
“Saratoga is a perfect place to have a horse. The weather is brilliant,” said Joseph, Jr. “Last year, we just got our feet wet and learned what type of horses we need to bring. It was good to get off the mark. I think this year we'll have a pretty good Saratoga all being well."
Joseph, Jr. said maintaining a New York presence is important as he looks to build his stable and attract new owners.
“The spring and summer meets in New York have the best outfits,” said Joseph, Jr. “You have Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher and all the biggest names. To win among them and do well will attract a different kind of clientele. Plus, the owners we have now already want to race their horses in New York.”
The Maryland-based Russell is currently fifth in the Laurel Park trainer standings with a record of 32-11-8-5 and purse earnings of $422,259.
Russell, who will have 10 Belmont stalls, earned her first win with her first career starter – Oh My – in February 2018 at Laurel Park. She previously worked for trainers Ron Moquett, Jimmy Jerkens, and Brad Cox before going out on her own.
"We're hoping to improve the quality of the horses coming in at the beginning of the year here and it seemed like a good time to take a shot," said Russell. "We ran a few in New York last year but always shipped, so maybe this will be a better way to do it."
Russell enjoyed stakes success at the Big A in January when Maryland-bred Hello Hot Rod shipped to win the Jimmy Winkfield. The up-and-coming conditioner, who has worked hard to grow her stable to 40 horses, also notched a pair of wins last summer at Saratoga, including an allowance score with So Gracious.
"That's why we do this - to win at the bigger race tracks and especially in New York," said Russell. "That's where the owners want to be racing, with the bigger purses and at the big meets. Just shipping up and having some luck in the small portions that we have so far, people notice that. It’s big for my career."
Russell said upgrades to the top-class facilities at both Belmont and Saratoga made the decision for her to bring stock full time to New York easier. Her Belmont barn will be overseen by assistant Amanda Olds, while Russell said she will shuttle back and forth between Maryland and New York.
"I spent time in New York when I worked for Brad Cox and I really enjoyed training there," said Russell. "It's a nice place to train horses and my assistant is really familiar with New York as well. The whole thing just works for the plans we have right now."
Belmont provides numerous options for trainers to exercise their horses. In addition to the historic main track, the 430-acre facility boasts a one-mile training track, two covered jogging barns featuring a synthetic surface and a quarter-mile pony track.
Russell said if all goes well at the Belmont spring/summer meet, she will look to extend her stay in the Empire State to Saratoga.
"We'll take it one step at a time and hopefully we can win a few races at Belmont. I'd love to go to Saratoga but I want to make sure we have the right horses to go," said Russell. “I got some better younger horses last year. Laurel is a great place for a lot of these horses, but it's also really nice to have the New York option because it's not far from Maryland. If the horses don't fit up there, we still have Maryland and hopefully, we'll have another one to take its place in New York."
NYRA made a significant capital investment at Saratoga ahead of last year’s summer meet to enhance safety and upgrade the heavily-trafficked main track, including the addition of a rider safety rail, and a modernized drainage system creating a more consistent surface for horses and riders.
Capital improvements are continuing at Saratoga in advance of the 2021 summer meet with work taking place at the Oklahoma Training Track to renovate the track base layer and cushion, and add modernized drainage and a rider safety rail.
Russell said the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale in August could also provide an opportunity to look for horses outside of her current Maryland focus.
"I have a few New York-breds in the barn and I think being there will make it more attractive for us to look," said Russell. "I'm still programmed to look for Maryland-breds but when we go to the sale now, it will give us a reason to look outside that and see what New York-breds are there."
Her husband, jockey Sheldon Russell, sits second in the Laurel jockey standings with a record of 122-30-26-11.
"Sheldon will be based in Maryland but hopefully as COVID restrictions lift there will be a few that he can come up and ride," said Russell.
On Sunday at Laurel Park, the Russell family trainer/jockey combo combined to win an open maiden special weight with Cash is King and LC Racing’s Dream Big Dreams. The colt was named by Cash is King’s managing partner Chuck Zacney.
"Chuck said he wanted to use that name for one that we liked,” said Russell. “It's fitting that it was that colt that won because we think he has a future ahead of him. Maybe that's one that Sheldon can come up to New York and ride.”
For information on the Belmont spring/summer meet visit www.NYRA.com.