Donk’s Comments Re: The Modernization of Belmont Park

March 10, 2023

Trainer David Donk at Gulfstream Park. (Coglianese Photo)

Thin White Duke, Yes and Yes on the work tab

NYRA Press Office

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Trainer David Donk, a New York native, who also serves on the board of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, will attend a rally at the State Capitol in Albany on Monday in support of NYRA’s plan to re-imagine and modernize Belmont Park. 

Earlier this year, Gov. Hochul proposed loaning NYRA $455 million to build a new grandstand and additional facilities to develop a world-class venue at Belmont. As budget negotiations continue, racing stakeholders will be joined by members of organized labor and the business community to encourage the legislature to advance this transformational project. 

During construction, the project will create $1 billion in economic impact and sustain 3,700 temporary jobs. All construction work will be done using union labor paying a prevailing wage. Following completion, a new Belmont Park will generate $155 million in annual economic impact and support 740 permanent full-time jobs and $51 million in annual labor income. The $455 million loan will be paid back in full, with interest. 

Donk spoke in support of the continued development of the Belmont property located adjacent to the 18,000-seat UBS Arena, the home of the National Hockey League’s New York Islanders, which opened in November 2021.

“I’ll be there to support the initiative of Dave O’Rourke and his team. The whole project – and it’s not just the building – has been done with the mindset of what is best for the next 50 years,” Donk said. “The building is old and obsolete, and this project will be the final phase of the whole development project. It will go hand-in-hand with the new train stop and the UBS Arena. They did a tremendous job with the arena and a lot of the facade looks like Belmont Park. 

“So, this is part of completing that process,” Donk continued. “At the end of the day, racing is here for the long term. This is a political position where they’re just trying to borrow the money and we’re not asking the taxpayers to pay for it. Hopefully, it goes through. I think it’s a great business move to own two facilities versus three. You’re going to have Belmont and Saratoga and for myself personally, as a New Yorker, there’s no two better places to be.”

Along with a new grandstand, ongoing development of the Belmont property includes a Tapeta pony track which opened in December and scheduled renovation of both turf courses and the main track, all overseen by Glen Kozak, NYRA’s Senior Vice President, Operations and Capital Projects. 

In addition to developing a world-class facility capable of hosting year-round racing and mega events like the Breeders’ Cup, NYRA will continue to devote the resources, time, and attention necessary to support the backstretch community at Belmont Park. This means the construction of more new backstretch housing in the coming years than at any point in NYRA history along with unprecedented overall investments in backstretch facilities.

“At the end of the day, they could rename the place after Glen for all the work he’s put into these facilities. He’s an amazing person and communicator,” Donk said. “Those projects are in motion. We just need the ability to have the final plan of what to do with the building and go from there.”

For more info on the modernization of Belmont Park, visit https://www.nyhorseracing.com/.

Thin White Duke rallies to beat Dancing Buck by a nose in the Lucky Coin Stakes at Saratoga Sept. 2, 2022. (Susie Raisher)

Donk’s most recent stakes winner, Thin White Duke, who captured the Lucky Coin in September at Saratoga, was on the Belmont dirt training track work tab Thursday along with fellow turf sprinter Yes and Yes. The graded stakes placed pair were last seen on November 25 competing in the Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship, finishing third and 10th respectively.

The duo wintered upstate at Mill Creek Farm and will target a turf allowance sprint here as a steppingstone to the seven-furlong $150,000 Elusive Quality on May 6 at Belmont.

“They came back in great shape. Yesterday was the second breeze back for both of them,” Donk said. “They’re doing well and I’m happy with the way they’re training. They breezed well and galloped out well and both are targeted for a run on the turf when we get back on the grass at Aqueduct.”

Phil Gleaves, Joseph Straus, Jr. and Hugh Fitzsimons’ graded-stakes placed Kentucky-bred Yes and Yes covered three-eighths solo in 36.49, while Gleaves, Steven Crist, Ken deRegt and Bryan Hilliard’s New York-bred Thin White Duke went the same distance in 36.67 in company.

Thin White Duke, bred and previously conditioned by the retired Gleaves, posted a record of 11-3-1-2 last year for Donk, including a close third in the Grade 3 Troy in August at the Spa when a neck back of the victorious Golden Pal, a dual Breeders’ Cup winner, and runner-up True Valour, a multiple graded-stakes winner, in a dramatic photo finish.

“I’m looking forward to getting Thin White Duke back to the races,” Donk said. “He got quite good last summer and fall, and I’ll be curious to see if he can contend to be one of the better turf sprinters in New York. It looks like there’s a lot of upside with him.”

Yes and Yes, also bred and previously trained by Gleaves, went 8-3-1-1 last year led by a trio of scores against winners over turf at the Belmont spring meet, along with a troubled third in the Grade 3 Belmont Turf Sprint in October at Belmont at the Big A.

“Yes and Yes really has an affinity for the course at Belmont,” Donk said. “That meet is obviously going to be shorter with us racing in the summer there and not in the fall. We’ll take advantage of as much grass as we can at Belmont with him.”

Robert Spiegel’s determined maiden winner Register, who garnered a 93 Beyer in his third-out graduation, worked a half-mile in 49.66 Friday over the Belmont dirt training track in preparation for the 1 1/16 mile Private Terms, a two-turn test on March 18 at Laurel Park. He was piloted in the breeze by his regular exercise rider and will be ridden at Laurel by Jorge Vargas, Jr.

Donk said he was interested in trying the Super Saver ridgling around two turns following his maiden score in a one-turn mile on February 18 here.

“He breezed a half last week and breezed back well today,” said Donk. “I like the timing of the race. I’m not sure down the road how far he wants to go, but it’s within his realm. I’ve always felt he’s a horse that could stretch out a bit. The timing is four weeks and I’m not on the Derby trail, so I’m not chasing Derby points. This will be a little better company without being in too deep of waters. I think he’s a nice colt, it’s just a matter of how nice he’s going to be.”

In his maiden score, Register dueled gamely for the lead with Asmodeus through splits of 23.50 seconds and 47.01 over the fast main track. The duo battled the length of the lane with the Katie Davis-piloted Register putting his nose on the wire first to secure the win in a final time of 1:36.69. It was a further 10 1/4-lengths back to the third-place finisher Ride Up, who is entered in a maiden tilt here Saturday.

“I thought it was a really big effort for him,” Donk said. “Katie gave him a phenomenal ride. She made a great decision early to let him be engaged and not get sucked back in. She kept her position. At the same time, the horse that finished second ran a heck of a race also. He got a very nice speed figure and that validated the effort and what it looked like visually. He’s definitely moving forward. It’s been a nice progression. I’m trying to develop him and hopefully he’ll be a pretty nice horse for the summer. He’ll tell us.”

While Register is not on the Derby trail, Donk said he wouldn’t mind having a contender for the 10-furlong Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers on August 26 at Saratoga

“If he can go a mile and a quarter, he can go a mile and a quarter in the Travers,” Donk said. “He’s a big, strong colt. The way he trains, he acts like he would go long. I never looked at him like a sprinter. It’s always a question of how far that is – is he better a one-turn mile or will he better two turns. He’s a really kind, smart horse and I’m looking forward to the next step with him.”

Register has kept good company through three starts at the Big A – both with Vargas, Jr. up – finishing second to Uncorrelated in his January 6 debut sprinting six furlongs before again completing the exacta on January 28 in a 6 1/2-furlong sprint won by Mr. Swagger. Both Mr. Swagger [6th] and Uncorrelated [12th] returned to compete in Saturday’s Grade 3 Gotham, a Kentucky Derby qualifier won by Raise Cain.

The $170,000 purchase at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale is out of the Elusive Quality mare Champagne Sue, who is a half-sister to multiple graded-stakes winner Sapphire n’ Silk and graded-stakes winner Golden Itiz. Register’s 4-year-old half-brother High Oak, by Gormley, captured the 2021 Grade 2 Saratoga Special presented by Miller Lite at the Spa.

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