07/03/2014 12:57PM

Crist: Big race days keep sizzle going in New York


Whether or not you think that what American racing really needs is a pair of new seven-figure races for 3-year-olds on grass, Saturday’s inaugural Stars and Stripes Day card at Belmont Park has already succeeded in its mission: to create a stakes-rich, meaningful day of racing in New York during the six weeks between the Belmont Stakes and the opening of Saratoga.

This is the second major makeover at the Belmont spring-summer meeting from Martin Panza, the New York Racing Association’s new senior vice president of racing operations. The first was enhancing Belmont Stakes Day with races that previously had been run over Memorial Day weekend, including the iconic Metropolitan Mile. Belmont Day featured nine graded stakes, six of them Grade 1s, as gaudy a card of racing as anyone has seen outside of a Breeders’ Cup Saturday. It was an artistic success and, in Panza’s view, a financial one as well.

“I was hoping we’d handle $125 million for the day, and we did $152 million,” he said. “On straight bets alone, the handle on the Met Mile went from $1.8 million to over $7 million.

“You’re not always going to have a horse going for a Triple Crown,” he added, “and this new lineup means we’ll have a great day of racing regardless. Basically, it gives New York a summertime Breeders’ Cup kind of day. People will decide in March or April that they’re going for Belmont Day whether or not there’s a Triple Crown.”

The idea of the new Stars and Stripes Day was twofold: to showcase the two rich, new races for 3-year-olds on grass, the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks, and to consolidate previously scattered races into a second big day of stakes racing to “remind people that the Belmont spring meet doesn’t end after Belmont Day,” Panza said.

The inaugural Belmont Derby field is a strong one. Eight of the 11 entrants are graded stakes winners, including three well-regarded Europeans: Toast of New York, the UAE Derby winner, whose handlers wanted firmer ground than what was available in Europe; Gailo Chop, one of France’s top 3-year-olds but ineligible for the classics there because he is a gelding; and the highly regarded Coolmore colt Adelaide. Another French colt, Pornichet, was purchased out of his last start by the legendary Australian trainer Gai Waterhouse.

“This may be her first American starter,” said Panza. “Horses are traveling all over the world, and the United States is being a little bit left behind.”

Having a pair of seven-figure races on grass for 3-year-olds in July gives buyers of foreign horses something to shoot for.

“If someone’s looking at spending $750,000 or a million for a horse,” Panza said, “having a race where you can recoup so much of that is a strong incentive.”

So is the unusual designation of the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks as Grade 1 races for their inaugural runnings. Panza finessed this by technically rescheduling the Grade 1 Jamaica and Grade 1 Garden City into these slots and then renaming the races.

The Saturday card is an appealing one beyond the two new grass races. Three dirt stakes – the Grade 2 Dwyer, Grade 2 Suburban, and Grade 3 Belmont Sprint (formerly the James Marvin) – round out the stakes action and now fall just right on the calendar as preludes to Saratoga stakes such as the Jim Dandy, Whitney, and Vanderbilt.

With two cards at the summer meet drawing comparisons in quality to the Breeders’ Cup, how about having the real thing in New York again one of these decades? NYRA did not apply to host any of the next four Breeders’ Cups, which instead will be run at Santa Anita (2014 and 2016), Keeneland (2015), and Del Mar (2017). So, the soonest the Cup could return to Belmont is 2018, a staggering 13 years since the last one in New York, in 2005 at Belmont. The ownership and operation of the NYRA tracks is in an extended state of limbo, with a temporary “reorganization board” scheduled to create a new private entity by the end of next year. Breath should not be held.

“I don’t think New York is really looking for a Breeders’ Cup right now,” Bill Farish, the Breeders’ Cup chairman, told reporters last week. “When the management thing gets sorted out in 2015, maybe there will be an opportunity.”

It is appalling that political interference has kept Belmont, which should be hosting the Cup every four years, out of the loop for 13 years and counting. The damage to the prestige and prominence of New York racing is incalculable. At least Panza is creating some important and compelling days of all-star racing to tide us over in the meantime.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Slew, With the use of "lol" are a young possibly novice handicapper? The result of a ticket is not the point. If you are a serious player you should know that your total ROI result is over a period of time, no handicapper hits every bet. I didn't bother to put a pick 4 together because of the NYRA race selection. The industry laments declining handle and then makes decisions to increase their problem. Since you sarcastically asked, I hit the exacta in the Belmont Derby and the winner in the Oaks, how did you do?
mikey More than 1 year ago
Belmont and Monmouth loaded with graded stakes and each only can get 11.000 and change.The day's going to the track are gone.Why go pay high gas prices then pay to get in and park etc.Tracks don't care as long as we bet.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The new and improved NYRA offers five grades stakes race on today's card. Why isn't there an all stakes pick 4 or pick 5 linking these races.? The pick four final leg is a NY Bred NW 1X....No thanks
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Would you possibly have any of the stake winners?....lol
Stephen Stankiewicz More than 1 year ago
This is a tuff group!
Thomas Spiegel More than 1 year ago
What will the customer service be like at Belmont on 7/5? No need to answer here.
Class_of_78 More than 1 year ago
I have never seen Belmont Park lay down so many bread crumbs to help bettors heal after being eaten alive on Belmont Stakes. Won't be surprised if the feasting will resume this weekend. Good luck everyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Part of the blame for no Breeders Cup does go to NYRA and New York politics. But the vast majority of the blame needs to be placed squarely on the shoulders of a California-based BC board that wanted to boost Southern California's racing profile without having any of the quality at home to back it up. They got the money and a big drop in quality in the last couple of years. Home field advantages for their best horses does not mean their best horses are world class. NY has its own political issues, but the Breeders Cup is controlled by status seekers who think their product is far better than it really is. And racing has suffered for it.
Corky Pretzels More than 1 year ago
Panza is doing a great job, but anyone would have been an improvement on that valet-parker-at-best hack Campo, who has already found a way to cheapen Florida racing and bing it to new lows.
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Though now long overdue, your letter of acknowledgement to your readers would be well appreciated. So many sent their best wishes and still no thanks from Steve Crist. These also are the folks who buy your product. Is that why you feel you must kick them around? Panza is doing a great job, much like the guy at Little Penn National who brought in the Penn Mile.
jon g More than 1 year ago
Shut up,Chad
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Kiss his butt if you want to. I won't...
jaybern1 More than 1 year ago
Expecting someone to act like you think they should is a sure way to be disappointed, and unfair to the other person.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Get over it, Chad.
Big Jeff More than 1 year ago
So right Chad. He may have already done so, though, and many of us missed it because it was in DRF+.... (lol)
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Crist might be making himself as low as Beyer. If that's true then there is no hope for DRF. Can't wait for Bloodhorse to buy into Equibase.Lovin Cali Chrome n hope he comes back big - BUT it all doesn't have to happen this year.
Bob More than 1 year ago
Well they need some sizzle in NY.....the racing there has degenerated into carbon copy of the six horse fields you see running every day in SoCal and it appears they have also instituted the mandatory scratch rule that also originated in California. For those of you who are not familiar with this little piece of thoroughbred racing nonsense, the mandatory scratch rule is one of the Rules of Racing that states any time there are six or more horses entered in a race there must be at least one horse who scratches before the start of the race. Preferably more, but at least one is mandatory! There are some trainers who, wanting to do everything they can to please the stewards, will enter multiple horses in these affairs and scratch two or three, all in an effort to stay on the good side of the racing authorities.
michaelcancilla More than 1 year ago
Bob, never heard this. What is the purpose of a mandatory scratch. Can you site where the rule is in print, thanks ...welcome back Steve, hope all is well Mike
Walter More than 1 year ago
Said with tongue in cheek, but it does happen so often that it seems true