12/04/2013 6:28PM

Aqueduct: Gotham, Withers get purse boosts

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Aqueduct’s road to the Triple Crown is paved with even more gold as two of the four Kentucky Derby prep races restricted to 3-year-olds received purse increases for 2014, according to the stakes schedule approved Wednesday by the New York Racing Association Board of Directors.

The Grade 3 Gotham Stakes, run on March 1, received a $100,000 increase to $500,000, while the Grade 3 Withers Stakes, run on Feb. 1, got bumped $50,000 to $250,000. Both races, run over the inner track at 1 1/16 miles, lead to the $1 million Wood Memorial, run April 5 over the main track at 1 1/8 miles. The first race in the series, the Grade 2 Jerome, run at a mile and 70 yards on Jan. 4, retained its $200,000 purse.

While the Jerome did not receive a purse increase, it has been added by Churchill Downs to the list of races offering qualifying points for the May 3 Kentucky Derby. The Jerome is a 17 point race (10-4-2-1), as is the Withers. The Gotham offers 85 points (50-20-10-5) while the Wood offers 170 points (100-40-20-10).

The Wood tops the Aqueduct schedule, which offers 31 stakes (13 graded) worth a total of $6 million. Last year, Aqueduct scheduled 29 stakes worth $5.175 million. A pair of New York Stallion Stakes, each worth $100,000, will be run closing weekend at Aqueduct after having been run opening weekend at Belmont last spring. Racing at Aqueduct runs through April 27.

The Wood tops an April 5 card that features five stakes, including the Grade 1 Carter, which received a $100,000 purse increase to $500,000. The undercard also includes the Grade 2 Gazelle, for 3-year-old fillies, and the Grade 3 Bay Shore, for 3-year-old sprinters, both of which had their purses bumped $50,000 to $300,000. The Grade 2, $250,000 Ruffian for fillies and mares at one mile is also on that card.
The Gazelle is one of three races that offer qualifying points toward the May 2 Kentucky Oaks. The Busanda (Jan. 4) and the Busher (Feb. 1) each offer 17 points and the Gazelle is a 170-point race. Princess of Sylmar won the Busanda – which did not offer points last year – and the Busher, and was second in the Gazelle before winning the Kentucky Oaks.

Ten stakes that were worth $75,000 last winter will be worth $100,000 this year. That includes the Ladies Handicap and the Affectionately Stakes, which swapped positions on the calendar. The Affectionately, run at 1 1/16 miles, will be run New Year’s Day, while the Ladies, run at 1 1/8 miles, is scheduled for Jan. 25.

The board approved the stakes schedule only for Aqueduct, but it also approved 252 racing dates for the entire year at the three NYRA tracks. Belmont’s 57-day spring meet will run from May 1 through July 14 and, for the first time since 2007, there will be racing the day after the Belmont Stakes.

Saratoga’s 40-day meet will run from July 18 through Sept. 1, while Belmont’s 37-day fall meet begins Sept. 6 and runs through Oct. 26 before racing switches back to Aqueduct on Oct. 31.