04/18/2012 1:42PM

Finger Lakes: Nine stakes return for 50th season


There’s reason for optimism as Finger Lakes launches its 50th season of live racing Friday.

Nine stakes that were slashed from last year’s schedule because of a dramatic reduction in purse supplement funding from the New York Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund have been restored, giving the western New York track that opened on May 23, 1962, a 13-stakes package worth slightly more than $1 million.

As usual, Finger Lakes will save its best stakes for last. The New York Breeders’ Futurity on Sept. 29 will be worth an estimated $200,000. Other highlights include the 40th running of the $150,000 New York Derby on July 21. The New York Derby is the second leg of the Big Apple Triple for New York-bred 3-year-olds, which begins with the Mike Lee Stakes at Belmont Park in late June and concludes with the Albany at Saratoga in late August.

Trainer Chris Englehart and jockey John Davila Jr. will both receive awards following Friday’s third race. Englehart saddled 135 winners last season to top the local trainer standings for the ninth straight year. He was also named the New York-bred trainer of the year by the New York Thoroughbred Breeders earlier this month.

Davila was the track’s leading rider for the 10th straight year. He rode 139 winners in 2011.

Another familiar face, John Grabowski, will be training horses rather than riding them during the afternoon.

Grabowski, 50, retired as a jockey at the end of last season. His career total of 3,088 wins at Finger Lakes is second only to Les Hulet. Grabowski begins the meet with six horses, but his stable is expected to grow larger as the season progresses.

Jockey Dennis Carr has three chances on opening day to reach a career milestone. Carr, who rode at Aqueduct’s inner-track meet during the winter, begins the meet one win shy of 2,500 career victories.

Carr’s mounts include Valuable Lady in the featured eighth race, a 4 1/2-furlong allowance for fillies and mares who have never won two races. Valuable Lady, a 5-year-old mare, has set the pace in most of her 27 starts and may appreciate the cutback in distance from six furlongs. The morning-line favorite is Too Tough Sissy, who comes off a third-place finish at Aqueduct.

Newcomers to the jockey colony include veterans Joel Cruz and Wilfredo Lozano Jr., 21-year-old Jaime Rodriguez, and apprentices Emanuel Nieves and Guillermo Rodriguez.