The Recorder

Memorial Day weekend no longer the racing mainstay it used to be

Cloud Computing, left, ridden by Javier Castellano, wins the 142nd Preakness Stakes horse race ahead of Classic Empire, ridden by Julien Leparoux, Saturday, May 20, 2017, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Cloud Computing, left, ridden by Javier Castellano, wins the 142nd Preakness Stakes horse race ahead of Classic Empire, ridden by Julien Leparoux, Saturday, May 20, 2017, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

By MARK HOFFMAN

For The Recorder

For many, the Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer. In the past, summertime racing kicked off in full throttle mode this last weekend in May. But in recent years, the racing stakes schedule has been more pointed toward big marquee graded stakes races.

Stake races have been clumped together on big days alongside the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Churchill Downs and Pimlico have their biggest days with stakes races the first and third Saturdays of May. It was a different story for Belmont Park, until recently.

It all changed three years ago when the New York Racing Association moved several of its stakes to Belmont Stakes day in June. Up until 10 years ago, the Peter Pan Stakes — which is the New York prep for the Belmont Stakes — was contested the Saturday or Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Now, it’s contested between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The biggest race to change dates was the Metropolitan Mile, which was always the Memorial Day staple. Moving this along with several other minor stakes, NYRA has made a monster stakes card on Belmont Stakes day.

When looking at this weekend’s stakes schedule across the country, it comes up a bit weak. There is only two Grade I races, both at Santa Anita in the Gold Cup (which was formerly contested at Hollywood Park) and the Gamely Stakes on the turf for filly and mares.

In the past, Monmouth Park on the Jersey shore was a major player on this holiday weekend. The Red Bank Stakes is only graded race run there this weekend. But in New York, there are none. Today’s race is just listed, no stakes tomorrow and on Monday, there are six New York-bred races which are only for statebred runners. The days of graded stakes kicking off summer in North America are a thing of the past.

There will be no Triple Crown attempt on the line this year again with last Saturday’s results in the Preakness. When headed, Always Dreaming folded up like a tent. Cloud Computing ran down Classic Empire — and at this time it looks like neither of the winners in the first two legs of the Triple Crown rwill be entering the Belmont Stakes in two weeks.

Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee are the only two holdovers from the first two races. Hit with bad luck so far, Classic Empiree quite possibly may be only the second horse in 30 years that I would select first in all three Triple Crown races. His effort last Saturday proved that he is still the best runner from this 3-year-old crop. That may not be saying much, but he’ll be the horse to beat in a full field of runners trying the classic marathon distance  of a mile and a half in the “test of the champion.”