11/02/2016 2:46PM

Dirt racing becomes the focus at Aqueduct

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Barbara D. Livingston
Aqueduct will host racing in New York for the next six months.

Action on the New York Racing Association circuit on Friday shifts to Aqueduct, where for the next six months the focus is on dirt racing. For Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior director of racing operations, that’s a scary proposition.

“We struggled to make dirt races all year long,” Panza said. “We can run three turf races a day, but it’s a little scary to have to fill six, seven dirt races.”

There will be 23 days of racing scheduled for the main track, with the season extended by one week through Dec. 4. Typically, the main track closes the Wednesday after Thanksgiving, but with that holiday relatively early this year (Nov. 24), management pushed back the start of the inner-track season to Dec. 7.

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Panza said NYRA will try to use Aqueduct’s turf course through at least Thanksgiving weekend, weather permitting.

After two five-day race weeks when the inner-track season opens, there will be an extended holiday break, with no racing Dec. 19-28. When racing resumes Dec. 29, the schedule will revert to a four-day race week, Thursdays through Sundays, as was the case for most of the inner-track season last winter.

The opening of Aqueduct coincides with the Breeders’ Cup, and there will be 10-race cards Friday and Saturday. First post is 12:20 p.m. Eastern on Friday and Saturday and through most of the meet, with an 11:50 a.m. first post for Thanksgiving and the two subsequent days when 10 races will be offered.

NYRA will offer a late pick five only on those days when 10 races are run.

There will be 20 stakes offered during the main-track portion of the fall meet, 11 of which are graded. The stakes action begins with Friday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Nashua Stakes, which drew a field of only five but potentially two good ones in Mo Town and Capitaine. Saturday’s card is highlighted by the Grade 3, $200,000 Tempted for juvenile fillies, and Sunday’s card features the Grade 3, $200,000 Long Island for fillies and mares at 1 1/2 miles.

The biggest day of Aqueduct’s fall season is Nov. 26, when four stakes will be run, topped by the Grade 1 Cigar Mile. The race will carry a base purse of $500,000, but Grade 1 winners will run for the winner’s share of a $750,000 purse, and any Breeders’ Cup winners will run for the winner’s share of a $1 million pot. The Grade 2 Remsen, Grade 2 Demoiselle, and Grade 3 Comely also are run Nov. 26.

Two new turf stakes have been added to the schedule – the $125,000 Gio Ponti for 3-year-olds on Nov. 24 and the $125,000 Winter Memories for 3-year-old fillies on Nov. 25.

The Grade 3, $250,000 Go for Wand has been pushed back to Dec. 3 but is still scheduled to be run as a one-turn mile over the main track.