09/07/2014 12:12PM

Watchmaker: Time right for NYRA to reassess fall meet


It is understood that one of the reasons why the Breeders’ Cup hasn’t been at Belmont Park since 2005 was uncertainty over the status of the New York Racing Association, uncertainty that led to a state takeover of the NYRA that is supposed to conclude in the fall of next year. And recently, lack of interest on management’s part is another reason why there is no Breeders’ Cup at Belmont.

But these excuses weren’t always in play, especially around the time when there was what appeared to be a big rush to award the 2009 Breeders’ Cup to Santa Anita. That marked the first time a track was designated as host of consecutive Breeders’ Cups, and it seemed like a major slap in the face to New York racing.

Reasons aside, the fact that it has been so long since a Breeders’ Cup was held in New York is especially frustrating to area racing fans. And that is because of the simple fact that no racing circuit in America sacrificed more than New York did to assist and ensure the success of the Breeders’ Cup.

Before the Breeders’ Cup, no races in America had a greater say in determining year-end championships than the fall stakes in New York. The Jockey Club Gold Cup was the de facto Breeders’ Cup Classic. The Champagne and Frizette routinely crowned the juvenile champions. And so on.

This all came to mind again after conversing with a few folks during the first two days of the Belmont fall meet, people who seemed struck how low key this opening weekend was. This is a meet that used to be known as the “Fall Championship Meet.” But now, when it comes to premier stakes racing, this Belmont meet essentially is a two-day affair. “Super Saturday” on Sept. 27 will be a great day with the Jockey Club Gold Cup heading a card that includes four other Grade 1 races, and the following Saturday will be big with the doubleheader of the Champagne and Frizette. But these once defining races are now Breeders’ Cup preps, and the rest of the Belmont fall schedule just feels very light, especially coming on the heels of a strong Saratoga meet.

Another factor that could weaken this Belmont meet is the new dirt surface at Keeneland. Everyone (well, almost everyone) is happy Keeneland has switched from Polytrack back to dirt because it brings a great racetrack with a great schedule of truly prestigious stakes races back in line with the rest of American racing. But Keeneland will be a fierce competitor for Belmont for stakes horses this fall at a time when good stakes horses are at a premium.

Close Hatches, currently the ranking older female in the nation, will run in Keeneland’s Spinster, not Belmont’s Beldame. Yes, I know Close Hatches is owned by Juddmonte, a strong supporter of racing at Keeneland. But with the Spinster now back on dirt, Close Hatches’ connections didn’t even have to think twice about it, whereas if the Spinster were still on Polytrack, the Beldame would have, for this filly, been a strong option. And connections with Breeders’ Cup-worthy 2-year-olds will be taking long looks at the Alcibiades and Breeders’ Futurity over the Frizette and Champagne. Unlike the races at Belmont, the Alcibiades and Breeders’ Futurity are two-turn preps for their corresponding Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita, which will also be two-turn events.

It’s hard to envision when, if ever, the Breeders’ Cup will return to Belmont. The NYRA has to really want to have it, because it’s certainly no moneymaker for the track that hosts it. And with no one really knowing what will happen, if anything, when the three-year state takeover plan is up next year, there seems to be plenty of uncertainty over what the future holds for New York racing. Against that backdrop, maybe it’s time for the NYRA to reassess positioning its premier fall races as pure Breeders’ Cup preps, and consider looking for a middle ground between that and maximizing these events for a stronger overall fall meet.

Quick notes:

Vicar’s in Trouble was impressive winning the Super Derby. My book on Vicar’s in Trouble was that he was at his best when allowed to ramble early. But he rated beautifully early Saturday and turned in what might have been his best performance yet.

I’m still trying to figure out how Medal Count managed to lose the Dueling Grounds Derby.

I’m also still wondering where all that money on Ria Antonia in the Locust Grove came from. Sheesh, that was nuts. But that pari-mutuel support didn’t help her run any better.

Apparently, there are some who think the group who contested the Iroquois was a good one. I guess I missed it. I’m trying hard to not be harsh on 2-year-olds competing in a two-turn stakes race the first weekend of September. But Bold Conquest, who was beaten only a neck, came out of two of what I thought were the weakest straight maiden juvenile races run at the Saratoga meet.

Cougar Paisley More than 1 year ago
When is NYRA going to reassess their disaster of this year's Belmont Stakes? They cannot handle a large scale event like the Breeders Cup, if they ran it like they did on Belmont Stakes day. Running out of food halfway through the day, running out beer and soda, garbage strewn all over the track on all levels, people stuck in unlit and broken glass parking lots, 5 hour wait just to board a train (something NYRA heavily promoted), not enough security at the end of the day, and the list could go on. Let them fix that performance before we suggest another Breeders Cup for NYRA.
DRFWatchmaker More than 1 year ago
Your points are fair, and well taken.
ML NJ More than 1 year ago
I disagree. I had no problems at all on Belmont Day. (It was my 49th consecutive Belmont.) I thought the place looked better than it had in years. I suppose I wasn't contending for one of those zillion dollar late-afternoon beers but I had no problem betting and seeing the races, which is why I go anyway.
Brian More than 1 year ago
The BEL meet feels particularly short on top-self, Grade I racing, which was probably inevitable given how much NYRA has raided the BEL fall meet to strengthen other parts of the stakes schedule. Beginning with the move of the Woodward, NYRA has taken it, the Man O War, the Jamaica, and the Garden City out of the fall. Put those back where they had traditionally been and it's a way better meet.
Ann More than 1 year ago
Not to mention the Jerome (G1 for 3yo milers), the Gazelle (G1 9f for 3yo fillies prepping for the Beldame, usually on opening weekend) , the Manhattan (a turf prep for the Man o' War), etc. etc.
Louie DeMato More than 1 year ago
NYRA already has 3 east coast breeder's cups days this year - June 7th Belmont stakes day, July 5th stars and stripes day and September 27th jockey club gold cup day. Outside of BC Saturday most years, there are no better days of racing. People don't know what they are missing and New Yorkers don't know how hood they have it. Spend a day at Suffolk Downs with me grinding it our with 4k and 5k claimers all day...
FESTUS ELROY More than 1 year ago
The Breeders Cup should be held at Santa Anita every year.An awesome venue.The Euros love it.The weather sunny and 75.Another Monmouth slopfest would be disastrous like the Superbowl in Pontiac Mich.was.I attended both.Not fun.
DCDunn More than 1 year ago
As for the racing what was bad? The winners were some of the best; Curlin, English Channel, Midnight Lute, Ginger Punch, War Pass. Good horses can race in weather.
Ann More than 1 year ago
The BC at Woodbine had beautiful autumn weather, as did the one at Arlington. I have attended two BCs, both at Churchill (2000 and 2011) and the weather was fine both times. Sometimes it rains on Derby day in the spring, sometimes it rains on Whitney day in the summer. Rain is part of the game but it is not inevitable at sites east of the Rockies.
FESTUS ELROY More than 1 year ago
Why gamble on weather when you dont have to.Especially when you showcasing your sport on TV.Many more LA celebrities mugging also makes the sport look chic.Woodbine gets you Rob Ford.
Ann More than 1 year ago
Because it is unfair to all the breeders who have supported the program for so many decades. Who cares about celebrities anyway? Not horsefans.
Westin Niles More than 1 year ago
The television contracts control who will have the Breeders Cup. The "Breeders Cup Classic" is required to be in primetime within the EST timezone.
Scott Weinstein More than 1 year ago
Bring the Woodward back to Belmont where it belongs. Problem solved.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
move it back to it's proper distance also.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Maryland is another state negatively impacted by the Breeder's Cup. It had a truly great race in the Washington DC International - the first international turf race in the U.S. and it was made obsolete by the emergence of the Breeder's Cup. What did Maryland get out of that? So there are at least two formerly prosperous racing venues which did not profit from the Breeder's Cup. Who needs it??
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Chris Kay is from "Toys are us;" not Target. He still never saw a camera he didn't like. My little 7 year old often says this about a new toy acquisition, "smells like 'toys are us'." This means he can tell when it was bought (vs. Target). I wonder what they were pumping through the ventilation system?
Beenthere Donethat More than 1 year ago
I don't know if there is a way to get the prestige back. Old NY prestige came from great horses that kept racing. If there is a chance is has to start with having bigger purses than anywhere else year round. There can't be a reason for big barns to go elsewhere, they will want to set up on -site. NY has to make it so that the only races worth shipping to are the out to the derby and the hitting the preakness on the way back home. That is the way it was.
Crystal David More than 1 year ago
A very good point you made. There was a time when a horse could have basically an entire "career" racing just in New York (but for the Derby and Preakness). And when Belmont closed for the winter the horses went home to the farm to rest.....
Ann More than 1 year ago
The number of black-type stakes races has multiplied several times since the 1970s when I first started watching racing. Black type races were 1.5% or so of all races back then; nowadays it is more like 4.5 or 5%. The Keeneland spring meets had all of 6 BT races, while the fall meets had 4; now they have more than that on some days. Back then, if you wanted to win stakes brackets, you had only a few places to do so, therefore the fields were often large and competitive. Some very nice horses were never SWs because they could earn more money winning overnights and placing in the top level races than by shipping out to win a lesser stakes race in Maryland. Once upon a time it meant something when you could say your horse was a SW in New York. With the introduction of black-type for overnights and conditioned races, NY black-type has been cheapened.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
Also the only thing that attracts foreign owners to the BC is their purses. If NYRa could match that with their own set of championship races on Super Saturday, they would be able to compete.Of course if they don't move the date to late Oct, you run the chance of losing out on horses running at Longchamp or Ascot for Champions day.