12/08/2016 11:41PM

Giwner: Changes on the horizon at Yonkers Raceway

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Derick Giwner
Yonkers Raceway will begin live racing on January 8 in 2017.

If you own or train an upper-level overnight pacer or trotter, you may want to circle January 8 on your calendar. Preliminary reports have Yonkers Raceway bumping up purses dramatically for this initial Sunday morning card and perhaps carrying over into the following week.

According to Standardbred Owners Association President Joe Faraldo, tentative plans call for a $75,000 Open Trot, $60,000 Open Pace and Non-winners of $25,000 trot, and a bunch of other races hovering around the $50,000 purse level.

“We suggested that since we were going early on Jan. 8 (approximate post 11:20 a.m.), it would be nice to boost the purses to reward the horsemen that supported Yonkers during 2016,” said Faraldo, who added that some of the purse increases would probably last into the following weekend.

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For those paying attention to the track’s purse structure in 2016, you may have noticed that unlike the past few years officials did not cut purses around October. Faraldo explained that the purse account was in better shape this year because the track hosted New York Sire Stakes Excelsior races which didn’t require the draining of funds for overnight races.

“We generate that money for the Sire Stakes and were not using it because Yonkers didn’t want to card races for the lesser quality Sire Stakes horses because the handle was terrible on them,” said Faraldo.

Yonkers, which will offer 238 live racing cards in 2017, is expected to start its year with a new look. The track signal will be available in High Definition to those outlets which can handle the sharper image.

Another long-talked-about change finally appears to be on the horizon as Faraldo said New York Gaming Commission approval for the moving of the finish line is finally imminent. Assuming there are no bumps in the road, February 1 is the target date to move the start/finish line back from the end of the stretch.

“Everything is in place,” said Faraldo, who said the Gaming Commission meeting was scheduled for December 13. “Once we get approval, the only thing left is to buy one extra camera.”

The highlight of the racing year at the Westchester County oval is the $1,000,000 Yonkers International Trot and tentative plans call for the race to be contested on October 14, 2017, perhaps accompanied by the New York Sire Stakes Finals traditionally held in late September.

“We may have to call it Day of Champions,” said Faraldo, playing off the usual Night of Champions moniker.

It has yet to be decided whether the eight championship races would be contested as part of the International card or on the same night as a separate card. They will fall out on the calendar one week after the end of the Grand Circuit meet at the Red Mile and one week prior to the Breeders Crown eliminations at Hoosier Park.

A major schedule change for the track is the addition of 23 Sunday morning/afternoon racing dates in 2017 and the switch back to night racing on Tuesdays. The Sunday programs will include commingling with pools in Europe, which have helped to spike the track’s dwindling North American handle.

Faraldo is not blind to the struggles the track has seen on the domestic handle front and vowed to do what he could to turn it around.

In the immediate future, hopefully the shorter stretch will lead to more action earlier in the mile and ultimately a more entertaining race on the track.