02/04/2016 4:45PM

Giwner: Packed stakes schedule on tap for 2016

The Grand Circuit action will be fast and furious in 2016.

The 2016 stakes calendar is officially out and for the most part the conflicts seem to be at a minimum. There is a consistent flow in many divisions while some connections, like those owners of 3-year-old pacers, are going to have to make a few tough calls at some point.

Let’s take a quick look at 3-year-old and older male divisions and see how the schedule stacks up.

As always, the older pacers, guys and gals, kick off the year with six consecutive weeks of Blue Chip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Memorial action at Yonkers Raceway. The two extended events commence on the weekend of March 18 and continue each Friday and Saturday night until the final on April 23, the second night of Passover, which means no bread or a trip to Yonkers for me.

[DRF HARNESS LIVE: Real-time insights from the DRF Harness team this Saturday at 6:35 p.m. + Video Analysis of the $18,653 Pick Five carryover at Meadowlands Friday]

From there the major stops are plentiful for the older male pacing group:

5/15 Flamboro – Confederation Cup;  5/21 Northfield – Battle of Lake Erie

5/27 Western Fair – Molson;  6/12 Tioga – Roll With Joe  

6/18 Mohawk – Gold Cup;  7/2 Pocono – Ben Franklin

7/9 Meadowlands – Graduate Final;  7/16 Meadowlands – Haughton Memorial

7/23 Saratoga – Gerrity Memorial;  8/6 Meadowlands – US Pacing Champ.

8/12 Hoosier – Dan Patch;  8/28 Tioga – Artiscape

9/3 Mohawk – CDN Pacing Derby;  9/10 Scioto – Ewart Memorial

9/19 Harrington – Quillen Memorial;  9/24 Hoosier – Hoosier Pacing Derby

9/30 Dayton – Pacing Derby;  10/9 Red Mile – Allerage

10/28 Meadowlands – Breeders Crown;  11/12 Meadowlands – TVG Final

Looking at the above schedule it is easy to conclude that there hasn’t been a better time to own a versatile older pacer at the top of the spectrum in years. In essence, from May 15 until November 12 (27 weeks) there are 20 weeks with a $100,000-plus race available. That doesn’t even take into account legs of the Graduate series for 4-year-olds or the number of Open Handicaps offered with purses from $25,000 to $60,000. The key word is versatile, though, because you’ll need to navigate many half-mile tracks along with some of the bigger ovals.

On to the older trotters, which get their first test in the Elitlopp Playoff at the Meadowlands on Sunday, May 8. The winner of the race gets an automatic invite into the prestigious Elitlopp on May 29 at Sovalla Racetrack in Sweden. Just for the record, the trotting mares also get started that same night in the Miami Valley Distaff.

The “big race” older trotting schedule is a bit sparse compared to the pacing side.

5/29 Philly – Maxie Lee;  6/11 Scioto – Charlie Hill

6/24 Meadowlands – Cutler Memorial;  7/2 Northfield – Cleveland Trotting Classic

7/9 Meadowlands – Graduate Final;  7/16 Meadowlands – Hambletonian Maturity

8/6 Meadowlands - Cashman Memorial;  8/26 Vernon – Crawford Trot

9/17 Mohawk – Maple Leaf;  9/24 – Hoosier – Centaur Trotting Classic

9/30 Dayton – Trotting Derby;  10/9 Red Mile – Allerage

10/15 Yonkers – International;  10/28 Meadowlands – Breeders Crown

11/12 Meadowlands – TVG Final

There are clearly fewer trotting events on the calendar compared to pacers. One thing I was happy to see is that the $1,000,000 Yonkers International will get the spotlight all to itself without any major stakes conflicts that day. It would be nice if they could convince Prix d’Amerique winner Bold Eagle to come over. I’m not ready to crown him “King of all Trotters”, but I’m pretty sure no North American trotter could go the trip he went at Vincennes on Sunday and come away with a victory.

Moving on to the 3-year-old pacers, the first stop on the calendar is a rich one, though it is restricted to foals of Pennsylvania sired stallions. The $500,000 Pennsylvania Classic and $300,000 partner race for sophomore fillies, takes place on May 7 at Pocono Downs. The initial open event is the $300,000 Art Rooney, which offers eliminations on May 21 and a final on May 28 at Yonkers Raceway.

As usual, the schedule gets hectic in June and barely gives a moment of breathing room through the Breeders Crown at the end of October.

6/4 Mohawk – Somebeachsomewhere & Meadowlands – NJ Sire Stakes Finals

6/18 Mohawk – North America Cup;  7/2 Pocono – Hempt Memorial

7/16 Meadowlands – Meadowlands Pace;  7/30 The Meadows – Adios

8/6 Meadowlands – Cane Pace;  8/13 Northfield – Milstein Memorial

8/20 Pocono – Battle of the Brandywine;  8/21 Red Mile – KY Sire Stakes Final

8/28 Tioga – Empire Breeders Classic;  9/3 Scioto – Ohio Sire Stakes Final

9/3 Yonkers – Messenger;  9/10 The Meadows – PA Sire Stakes Final

9/10 Scioto – Jug Preview (rumored);  9/22 Delaware Co. Fair – Little Brown Jug

9/24 Hoosier – Jennas Beach Boy & Yonkers – NY Sire Stakes Final

10/2 Red Mile – Bluegrass;  10/9 Red Mile – Tattersalls

10/15 Hoosier – Indiana Sire Stakes Final & Mohawk – Gold Sire Stakes Final

10/29 Meadowlands – Breeders Crown;  11/4 Hoosier – Monument Circle

11/10 Dover – Matron;  11/28 Dover – Progress Pace

A horse could conceivably race 15 consecutive weeks in a major race or elimination from June 4 to September 10. That’s a lot of wear and tear. I do really like the 13 day gap between the Tattersalls at The Red Mile and the Breeders Crown eliminations. That should allow for a horse to be at his peak for both events.

As usual, the stakes season for 3-year-old trotters begins with the Dexter Cup at Freehold Raceway. Along with the companion race for fillies, the pair of races are slated for May 7. After that, Sire Stakes preliminary legs will take center stage until the NJ Sire Stakes final on June 4 at the Meadowlands. Let’s take a look at the remaining schedule.

6/18 Mohawk – Goodtimes;  6/19 Vernon – Empire Breeders Classic

7/2 Pocono – Earl Beal Memorial;  7/16 Meadowlands – Stanley Dancer Memorial

7/24 Vernon – Zweig Memorial;  8/6 Meadowlands – Hambletonian

8/20 Pocono – Colonial;  8/21 Red Mile – KY Sire Stakes Final

9/3 Scioto – Ohio Sire Stakes Final & Yonkers – Yonkers Trot

9/10 The Meadows – PA Sire Stakes Final;  9/17 Mohawk – CDN Trotting Classic

9/22 Delaware Co. Fair – Old Oaken Bucket;  9/24 Yonkers – NY Sire Stakes Final

10/2 Red Mile – Bluegrass;  10/9 Red Mile – Kentucky Futurity

10/15 Hoosier – Indiana Sire Stakes Final & Mohawk – Gold Sire Stakes Final

10/29 Meadowlands – Breeders Crown;  11/4 Hoosier – Carl Erskine

11/10 Dover – Matron

While I took great care in filtering through the massive list of stakes to compile the above group of races, for an official listing check the USTA’s Stakes Calendar. It should be a great year of racing.