06/03/2010 10:50PM



I've just finished my first tour though the Belmont Day card and the word that keeps coming to mind is "schizophrenic."

The heart of the card, the Belmont Stakes and the Grade 1 and 2 stakes preceding it, is as good as it gets. The $1 million guaranteed pick-4 comprising the True North, Acorn, Manhattan and Belmont has highly competitive and intriguing fields numbering 10, 13, 11 and 12. Hard-hitting sprinters, 3-year-old fillies in the first leg of the Triple Tiara, champion Gio Ponti trying to resume his winning ways, and the final leg of the Triple Crown. Great stuff:

But I've never seen a race like Saturday's first of 13 on a Belmont Stakes card: statebred conditioned claimers, all of them running for a $15,000 tag, all of them 1-for-something, a combined 11 for 102. The 2nd is also for statebreds, this time maidens, all eight of them. Three nice open maiden and allowance races follow, then the six stakes. After the Belmont, there's another non-winners-of-two conditioned claimer and the third statebred race of the day, a turf sprint.

It's not as if NYRA scrapped a bunch of better races, or that racing secretary P. J. Campo didn't knock himself out trying to put together the best possible card. The sad reality is that it is now impossible to run a 13-race card in New York-- even once a year on its biggest day --  without resorting to multiple statebred and conditioned-claiming races -- something neither Churchill Downs nor Pimlico had to do to fill 25 races on Oaks and Derby Day and 26 races on Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness Day.

It's a very playable card, especially in the middle, and many of the once-a-year attendees won't know or care that the first two and last two races on the card are the kind you'd have never seen on a Belmont Stakes card not that long ago.

richf More than 1 year ago
Walt: I remain in the minority about the 15 race proposed plan you come up with. If the Belmont runs at 6pm still, that's 8 hours of wait. I realize this is a game of "let's see how much handle we can get", but come on. Racing is less about the fans on-track and more about the ones watching on television monitors. But even with that, I see a wrench in your plans. Without lights, you have to hope that the skies remain light enough to permit racing beyond the 7:30pm marker. If it's a day of rain, you can guarantee that there will not be enough sunlight available to finish that last race. If that is the last leg of the Pick-6, the last thing you want to do is to hand out a free spot "ALL" because the race is canceled. I know you mean well towards vitalizing the industry, but this idea might need to be ironed out more.
Mark the Shark More than 1 year ago
Steve, thanks for the math. I still have a letter from a young NYRA exec (you) calming a frustrated fan that, among other things, was complaining about the lack of live tellers which contributed to me getting shut out of a $859 P3 into Awad in the Manhattan.
Robertthom More than 1 year ago
I agree with M.B. Farber. Stop treating these horses like hothouse flowers. Hirsh Jacobs, one of the greatest trainers this game has ever seen, said, "I'd rather see them wear out than rust out". And the idea of "bounce" is just silliness foisted on us by the sheets guys.
TRSlyder More than 1 year ago
Love all the work you do, Steven, but Schizophrenia and Multiple Personality Disorder are not related. Schizophrenic means, essentially, insane/crazy/deeply troubled psychologically not duplicitous
Michael B. Farber More than 1 year ago
There is a very easy solution to this--just race the &*#$* horses! For all the talk about how fragile the breed has become, you just have to look at Australia for some indications that Thoroughbreds are not nearly as fragile as most American trainers make out. The winner of last November's Melbourne Cup, a $5-million, two-mile handicap, Shocking, had just raced THREE DAYS BEFORE in a 1 5/8-mile, Grade 3 handicap, worth about $175,000 (U.S.), which he also won. That's 3 5/8 miles of racing in graded stakes company in four days! Most of the horses in the Melbourne Cup had raced at least once in the past two weeks. Shocking was sired by Street Cry, a shuttle stallion that stands six months in the United States and six months Down Under, and his progeny are familiar sights at major American race tracks. The horsemen there do not seem to adhere to the "bounce" theory that a horse needs six weeks or two months off after a good effort. The prevailing philosophy there is "If the horse is hot, just go for it!" One thing that should be considered in trying to explain the difficulty that so many major tracks now have in filling entries is the inflated per-diem payments paid by owners to the top trainers. In California, these can come to close to $40,000 or more per year for the top trainers. They get these payments regardless of whether the horse races or how the horse finishes. Why risk running the horse, having it lose, and having the owner mad if the owner feels that the horse should have won that race, risking having the owner move his horses to another trainer, or risk an injury that would cause the horse to be removed from the track, in which case the trainer no longer collects the same per-diem payments? It's safer to keep the horse in the barn and wait and wait and wait for that perfect spot, which never seems to come, all the while collecting those per-diem payments. The tracks may have to step in to regulate these per-diem payments and give the trainers an incentive to race rather than keep the horses in the barn.
Jeff T. More than 1 year ago
I still love this weekend... I love Belmont Park... I love the Pick 4's and Pick 6... and I love my son (and his mother) who was born on Belmont Day in 2007.
Howard More than 1 year ago
Steven, your comments are spot on. Is it really necessary to start the race day at 1130 with 13 races?? NO, especially when force fed NY-bred fodder. Similarly, this is why my handle at NYRA tracks (especially Saratoga) has declined. Restricted claimers and state-breds...I can find that anywhere, NYRA used to be different, now they are just like the rest of the pack.
Walt P. More than 1 year ago
This is a very serious problem that this year was not helped by the date placing of the Belmont Stakes, in this case the Saturday after Memorial Day, which program on Monday had 11 races carded. Given the real problems NYRA has with filling allowance races (especially those above NW1x) right now, in the runup to the Belmont, I would seriously be looking at the following changes for 2011: During the first part of the Belmont spring meet, cutting back to eight races on weekdays and nine on Saturdays and Sundays (excluding Derby and Preakness Days, which would be 11-13 races each of those days, especially Derby Day if the Derby goes nighttime next year at Churchill and NYRA as a result winds up going with a live card past 8:00 PM ET, plus if that card also goes into the night Oaks Day, which would also be 10 races and probably a "sunset" card, with first post likely at 3:30 PM on Oaks Day and 2:00 PM on Derby Day). There was a time (prior to 1995) when NYRA carded only nine races on Saturdays and Sundays (and still is the case in the winter), and it may be time to cut back to nine outside of Oaks, Derby and Preakness days in the runup to the Belmont Stakes. After the Preakness, Memorial Day week would only have racing from Friday-Monday, with eight races on Friday, nine on Saturday and Sunday and 10 on Monday. The Met Mile would be the sole stakes event run on Memorial Day in this instance. The weekend between Memorial Day and The Belmont Stakes, racing would be Friday-Saturday-Sunday only with eight races on Friday and nine on Saturday and Sunday. Belmont Stakes week would be Thursday-Friday-Saturday only in the following manner: Thursday would be a "sunset" program with eight races and first post at 4:30 PM ET (with the last race going off around 8:15 PM). Friday would be as it is now: 10 races and the normal 1:00 PM ET first post. Saturday would go to 15 races with first post at 10:45 AM ET (with three races after the Belmont and the last race going off around 8:25 PM ET, obviously to take advantage of the huge crowd there). The Sands Point (Grade 2 for three year old fillies on turf) would be shifted to this program and possibly lengthened to a mile and a quarter. I would also add a starter stakes race (something Pimlico did to not have to dip into claimers during Preakness weekend), in this case, one at a mile and a half on turf. I would also add the New York Stallion Series race that was put together on May 26 after two other races were scrapped, but lengthen it to 1 1/2 miles on turf (or create a new state-bred stakes event for three year olds at that distance). That race to me would be one a lot of trainers might take a shot at going in just because it's at a mile and a half and on Belmont Day. The week after the Belmont would be another Friday-Saturday-Sunday only week, with at this point all Fridays being "sunset" programs with nine races and a 4:00 PM ET first post. This would allow for people to have plenty of time to prepare if the pick-six is not hit on Belmont Stakes day, especially if it's on a Friday and after work since in this scenario, the first leg would not go off until after 5:30 PM ET. After that, racing returns to the normal Wednesday-Sunday schedule for the remainder of the spring meet. Just my thoughts on how to fix this problem.
Scott More than 1 year ago
steve you are the best because you always write exactly how it is. new york racing has plummeted this year. i am scared to see what saratoga has to offer
turf2dirt More than 1 year ago
I got two words for you: Monmouth Park.