ELMONT, N.Y. – Diversify has shut it down for the year. Mind Your Biscuits is in Kentucky gearing up for a Breeders’ Cup race.
While the stars of the New York breeding program may be absent, several capable understudies are left to put on the show on Saturday’s Empire Showcase Day, a card of 11 races restricted to New York-breds at Belmont Park. The richest of eight stakes is the $300,000 Empire Classic, led by Pat On the Back, who came within a nose of upsetting Diversify in the Commentator Stakes here in May.
Pat On the Back could be favored in a field of 11 set to contest 1 1/8 miles in the Classic, race 10 on a card that begins at 12:30 p.m. Eastern.
Pat On the Back, trained by Jeremiah Englehart, has run five times this year but never at the same distance. After beginning his year with a sixth-place finish in the mud in the seven-furlong Say Florida Sandy at Aqueduct, Pat On the Back has a win and three seconds, with those losses coming by a combined one length.
The win came in the Saginaw, a race run at 1 1/16 miles around one turn, perhaps the closest configuration to the Classic that Pat On the Back has seen recently. Last out, Pat On the Back was beaten a neck by Can You Diggit in the Evan Shipman going 1 1/8 miles around two turns at Saratoga.
“I think he might be a little better at the one-turn longer race,” Englehart said. “The two turns, mile and an eighth might stretch out his run just a little bit where it might not be as effective.”
Pat On the Back does not show a work since Oct. 6. Englehart said Pat On the Back got loose one morning at Belmont, and that ultimately served as his last workout for this race.
Drawn in post 10 of 11, Pat On the Back figures to stalk in a field seemingly loaded with speed.
The three other off-the-pace threats in the Empire Classic are Can You Diggit, Calculated Risker, and Evaluator.
Evaluator is one of two 3-year-olds entered. He finished second behind Sea Foam – also entered in here – in the Albany Stakes last out. Trainer Mike Dilger noted that one of Evaluator’s best races came on this card last year, when he won the one-turn-mile Sleepy Hollow Stakes.
“An extra furlong shouldn’t hurt too much,” Dilger said. “With his style, coming from behind, it’s probably a little easier in a one-turn race than a two-turn race.”
The speed figures to come from Control Group, Mr. Buff, and Sea Foam.
Twisted Tom, who won this race last year, is back with a new trainer, Mike Stidham.
Fleet Indian trio in Distaff
English Soul, Take Charge Aubrey, and Split Time put on quite a show when heads apart in a blanket finish of the $200,000 Fleet Indian Stakes on Aug. 24 at Saratoga. That trio of 3-year-olds headlines the $250,000 Empire Distaff, contested at 1 1/16 miles.
English Soul overcame the outside post and a seven-pound weight concession to beat Take Charge Aubrey in the Fleet Indian.
“This time, she’s going to have to show a little bit of a different dimension,” trainer Ray Handal said. “There’s going to be a bunch of horses that are going to go – they probably won’t go terribly quick – but she’s probably going to have to sit off and make a run. I have a lot of faith in her. I think she’s better than her figures have shown. She has a lot of heart, and she’s training as good as she’s ever trained in her life.”
Take Charge Aubrey came out the Fleet Indian to win a New York-bred second-level allowance race going 1 1/16 miles.
“I ran her twice in 11 days at Saratoga. I backed off her and breezed her once, and she really ran good without a whole lot of training,” trainer Bruce Levine said. “I like the one turn.”
With Jose Ortiz riding at Keeneland, Javier Castellano has picked up the mount on Take Charge Aubrey.
Hay Field has won five of her last six starts for Englehart, but all of those races were sprints. Englehart has said he’s always wanted to run Hay Field long, noting that her sire, Haynesfield, won two editions of the Empire Classic.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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