Star of the West shines to win 2020 Belmont Park spring / summer meet opener
by Brian Bohl
Star of the West held the lead at the top of the stretch and drew away easily to capture the opening race on Wednesday's card as live racing returned to beautiful Belmont Park.
Owned and trained by Rudy Rodriguez, Star of the West's 5 ½-length score in the 6 ½-furlong maiden claimer commenced Opening Day of the Belmont spring/summer meet, held without spectators.
The race was the first one conducted on the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit since Sunday, March 15 at Aqueduct Racetrack before racing was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was a great trip. My horse helped me a lot," winning rider Reylu Gutierrez said. "We were a little slow out of the gate but [Rodriguez] was very confident if this horse got the lead or a forward position, that we would be in a great position to finish. I just didn't want to let go of my position.
"I felt the inside horses weren't going to outbreak me," he added." All the pressure was from the outside and I just wanted to take control of the rail and get a good position."
Off as the 7-5 favorite, Star of the West posted a final time of 1:17.09, returning $4.90 on a $2 win wager.
Gutierrez, a finalist for the 2018 Eclipse Award for outstanding apprentice jockey, said the result was extra gratifying being a New York native and attending college in the state before starting his professional riding career, earning a degree in exercise physiology from Cortland State University.
"It means the world to me [to be back racing in New York.] I grew up watching NYRA racing," said Gutierrez. "I stayed here throughout the pandemic. I stayed working. I was galloping, jogging and breezing horses. Whatever it takes to earn my place here at NYRA. Winning the first race back means the world. I'm just battling to earn my place here. I shed a little tear after the wire because it really does mean a lot to me."
Before the opening race, the jockey colony stood in the paddock for a moment of silence in honor of those lost to COVID-19 and to pay tribute to the medical professionals, first responders and front-line workers. The colony then took a knee after the moment of silence in solidarity with peaceful protesters across the country.
"There's a lot going on in the world right now and we wanted to show respect to all causes, and to all people, and to show that we here at NYRA support everybody," Gutierrez said. "Horseracing, in general, supports all ethnicities. Horse racing is a worldwide sport and it doesn't matter what color you are, what religion you are, or what ethnicity you are. What matters in horse racing is that we are one. Here at NYRA, we have people from everywhere and fans from everywhere. We will continue to be united here and support everybody."
Following the five-day opening week, live racing at the 25-day Belmont spring/summer meet will be conducted Thursday through Sunday with a first post time of 1:15 p.m. Eastern. The spring/summer meet will conclude on Sunday, July 12.
The highlight of the 2020 Belmont spring / summer meet is the 152nd renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes, to be contested at nine furlongs, on Saturday, June 20 as the opening leg of the Triple Crown for the first time in history.
As the exclusive broadcast partner of the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown, NBC Sports will present three hours of live coverage from Belmont Park on Saturday, June 20, starting at 3 p.m. Eastern.
NYRA Bets is the official online wagering platform of the 25-day Belmont spring/summer meet. For additional details, and to sign up for NYRA Bets visit www.NYRABets.com.