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Lunar Victory wins Empire Classic as NY-breds take center stage at Belmont

Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide is

Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide is washed down after his morning workout at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. (June 3, 2003) Credit: AP

Funny Cide drew national attention to New York thoroughbred breeding in 2003 when he swept the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Millions saw commercials with his jockey, Jose Santos, telling potential equine investors to "Get with the program." Twenty years earlier, another state-bred gelding, Win, was a world-class grass horse who nearly beat John Henry.

Win became the first New York-bred millionaire in an era when purses were considerably smaller than now. Saturday at Belmont, the annual New York Showcase Day featured 10 races exclusively for state-breds, with seven stakes worth a combined $1.15 million. There was a mix of nice prices and odds-on winners, with Willet ($19.20, Iroquois), Mine Over Matter ($15, Bertram F. Bongard) and Matchmadeinheaven ($23.60, Joseph A. Gimma) rewarding the more adventurous and Weekend Hideaway ($4.10, Hudson), Hessonite ($2.70, Ticonderoga) and Unbridled Command ($7.30, Mohawk) paying off pari-mutuel conservatives.

Besides the racing, there was a farmers' market and you could buy crafts, clothing and collectibles and learn about the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. "Beautiful weather, and a lot of good feeling," said John Sabini, chairman of the State Racing and Wagering Board.

Trainer Gary Contessa, himself a New York-bred, also enjoyed the scene. "This place is empty every day, and then they bring in the state-breds and look what happens," the Merrick native said. "It's a beautiful thing. People don't understand the importance of the state-breds."

Accountants and tax collectors do. On Tuesday, a New York State equine industry economic impact study released a report that approximately 157,000 horses had a $4.2-billion effect on the state's economy.

Belmont's extravaganza on an Indian summer afternoon continued a lucrative year for New York-breds. Eleven have won 14 graded stakes against open company in North America, and last weekend two earned Grade I trophies, Next Question in the Nearctic at Woodbine and Dayatthespa in the Queen Elizabeth II at Keeneland.

In yesterday's feature, the $250,000, 11/8-mile Empire Classic, Bill Parcells brought star quality to the paddock as he watched his Saratoga Snacks being saddled. The 3-year-old, who came in 4-for-5 lifetime for Parcells' August Dawn Farm, finished second, 1¼ lengths behind 4-5 favorite Lunar Victory, trained by Bill Mott. "It was a good race," Parcells said. "I thought he ran well."

Saratoga Snacks' trainer, Gary Sciacca, also was pleased and said he had no plans on where to run him next. "I'll talk it over with Bill," he said, "and see what he thinks."

Frankel's perfect. Frankel, considered one of England's all-time greats, completed his career 14-for-14 in Ascot's 1¼-mile, Group I Champion Stakes. The 4-year-old won by 1¾ lengths despite a slow start and the softest turf he ever encountered.

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