Saturday was billed as New York Showcase Day. It turned into Ramon Dominguez Showcase Day.
Dominguez, the dominant rider on this circuit all year long, turned in another brilliant performance, winning four stakes, capped by a front-running, three-quarter-length score aboard Haynesfield in the $250,000 Empire Classic before a crowd of 4,180 at dreary Belmont Park.
Dominguez won four of the five stakes on the New York Showcase Card. He won the Sleepy Hollow aboard Fenway Faithful ($21.40), the Iroquois on Rightly So ($12.20), and the Hudson on Driven by Success ($3.70). In the other stakes, Dominguez finished third in the Maid of the Mist aboard Stellaluce.
"It doesn't get any better - I'm very excited," Dominguez said about the four stakes wins.
The four wins also should help Dominguez cop the Belmont fall riding title. Entering the day, he was just one victory in front of John Velazquez. He will enter Sunday's closing-day card four in front of Rajiv Maragh.
After briefly flirting with the Triple Crown trail during the winter, Haynesfield was sent to the sidelines for the spring and summer after an eighth-place finish in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in March. He did not return to the races until Oct. 2, when he finished second in an overnight stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs here. Earlier in the week, Toby Sheets, the assistant trainer to Steve Asmussen, indicated that Haynesfield would likely skip the Empire Classic and the Hudson, for which he was also nominated.
But when considering it further, Sheets and owner Harvey Weinstein couldn't pass up the opportunity to run against New York-breds for $250,000.
"We actually decided not to then we decided he's just training really good, if we're going to try, why [wait] to run against those horses for $65,000 when we can run against them for $250,000," said Sheets, referring to the pots of the stakes he would be eligible for in the winter. "He's doing well."
Breaking from post 5 under Dominguez, Haynesfield broke alertly and found himself pressing Love Abroad through fractions of 23.70 seconds and 45.96 for the opening half-mile. Approaching the three-furlong marker, Haynesfield began to pull away after running three-quarters in 1:10.87. He opened up a healthy margin in midstretch and despite getting leg-weary late, he was able to hold off Ruffino late. It was three lengths back to Undocumented in third.
Haynesfield, a son of Speightstown, covered the 1 1-8 miles in the slop - and dark - in 1:50.76 and returned $11.
"He's a big horse that has a very high cruising speed, it's really hard to tell how fast you were going when you are on his back, but I knew we were setting pretty quick fractions," Dominguez said. "As soon as he cleared [Love Abroad] into the turn, I felt pretty good because right away he came back to me and got a little bit of a breather. I knew the fractions were steep enough where he was going to have to work the last part. But when I went and gathered him up and asked him, he gave me a little bit of a run. Toby has done a great job with this horse, and he was all horse today."
The biggest disappointment was Future Prospect, the 8-5 favorite, who finished 10th of 11. Maragh blamed the off going for the off effort.
"Usually he's very competitive, dragging me into the race," Maragh said. "It must have been the going."