For eight jockeys riding in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, the fourth race on the Belmont Park card was something more than just another mount, another paycheck.
The Brooklyn Invitational is run at a mile and half, the same distance as the Belmont Stakes and the only other race of the day at that distance. The Brooklyn is a Grade II stakes for 4-year-olds and up with a purse of $400,000. The race went off five hours before the Belmont Stakes, a race in the shadows of its Triple Crown big brother with its national television exposure and $1,500,000 purse.
But for many of the Belmont Stakes jockeys (who, typically, also rode several other races during the day), the Brooklyn was a chance to get a tune-up at the distance.
Joel Rosario, who rode Governor Malibu in the Belmont, rode Brooklyn winner Shaman Ghost, who paid $9 and was timed in 2:28.40. Javier Castellano, who rode Destin in the Belmont, rode second-place finisher Turco Bravo. Belmont Stakes riders Mike Smith, Aaron Gryder, Jose Ortiz, Luis Saez, Irad Ortiz and John Velazquez also had mounts in the Brooklyn.
Kent Desormeaux, jockey of Belmont Stakes favorite and Preakness winner Exaggerator, did not ride in the race and his brother and Exaggerator’s trainer, Keith, did not have an entry.
After he weighed in and hustled off to the jockeys’ room, Castellano was impishly optimistic about his chances in the Belmont based on this warm-up mile and a half ride.
“I tell you what the track told me,” said Castellano, with a wink and a thumbs up. “It tells me that Destin is going to be the winner of the Belmont Stakes 2016.”
What the track told Castellano was close, but Destin came up a nose short.
Castellano’s confidence was the rosy outlook of a veteran big-time rider. Other veterans of both Belmont Park and the Belmont Stakes took the more low-key approach to both of the races.
Velazquez, aboard Stradivari in the Belmont, rode Doyouknowsomething to sixth in the Brooklyn. “All I can say is that when the race is this long, you have to be patient, you can’t win it at the start,” Velasquez said. “It’s good to get this race in just to feel how long it really is, but I’ve ridden here a lot, so I know the track.”
Jose Ortiz, rider of Forever D’Oro in the Belmont, was aboard seventh-place finisher Kid Cruz in the Brooklyn. “We ride here a lot and the track was average fast,” Castellano said. “You just have to see how your horse handles it. Doesn’t matter what race it is. It’s about how a horse handles the track and they are all different. I don’t think it would be any problem for [Stradivari].”