10/15/2004 12:00AM

'Grocer' among Showcase notables

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ELMONT, N.Y. - New York Showcase Day has evolved into a permanent fixture on the New York Racing Association stakes calendar.

On Saturday, Showcase Day will celebrate its 11th anniversary at Belmont Park, with seven stakes, worth a total of $1 million, for New York-breds - the $250,000 Empire Classic, $150,000 Mohawk, $150,000 Ticonderoga, $125,000 Hudson, $125,000 Iroquois, $100,000 Sleepy Hollow, and $100,000 Maid of the Mist.

Traditionally, Showcase Day features large fields, which translates into a good day of business for NYRA. In addition to the seven stakes, three other New York-bred races will be run. An umbrella giveaway to the first 12,000 fans is planned.

Showcase Day extends beyond racing. On Saturday and Sunday, which is closing day of Belmont Park's fall meet, vendors will sell crafts and food made in New York State, including clothes, jewelry, cheese, and wine. Children will be entertained with pumpkin carving, face painting, and games.

Bill Nader, NYRA's senior vice president, said Showcase Day has become popular with New York racing fans, and the timing of the event is a perfect tie-in with other fall championships, such as the Breeders' Cup the following weekend and the start of baseball's World Series the evening of Showcase Day.

"New York fans recognize these horses, so it's a fun day for them and a good betting card," Nader said. "It also gives fans a chance to look at horses, especially 2-year-olds, who might be major players the following year."

Showcase Day has the history of unveiling future stars, including Funny Cide, the winner of the 2002 Sleepy Hollow Stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings. The following year, Funny Cide became the darling of the New York breeding program with his wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, which earned him the 3-year-old championship. Funny Cide, who will run in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30, is the leading New York-bred in earnings.

Friends Lake, who recently was retired to stud, won last year's Sleepy Hollow and went on to become a Grade 1 winner this year in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

One of the horses who will spark some interest on this year's Showcase Day is the undefeated Galloping Grocer, who will make his stakes debut in the one-mile Sleepy Hollow after two easy wins. Galloping Grocer, a son of New York sire A. P Jet, was co-bred by the late Ira Waldbaum, the founder of the well-known chain of grocery stores bearing his name. Waldbaum's widow, Bernice, co-owns Galloping Grocer with Bob Rosenthal.

Conspicuously absent from Showcase Day will be several top older horses who were regulars on the card. Say Florida Sandy, a New York-bred Horse of the Year who ran in several Hudson Handicaps but never won, and Gander, a two-time winner of the Empire Classic and last year's runner-up, have both been retired. Well Fancied, who won the 2002 Hudson and last year's Empire Classic, is recovering from an injury.

For the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc., which represents the interests of more than 1,000 breeders in the state, Showcase Day is also a day for business. The NYTB will hold its annual membership meeting in the morning, and issues to be discussed include a legislative update as well as the business impact of this year's introduction of video lottery terminals at Finger Lakes. At the meeting, NYTB will award 10 college scholarships that were created through a fund started by the family of the late Jerry Nielsen, who was president of the NYTB until his death this year, and the Thoroughbred Charities of America.

After the meeting, NYTB members will be invited to a luncheon and a day of racing in the Belmont Cafe.

Dennis Brida, executive director of the NYTB, said he has had preliminary discussions with Mike Lakow, NYRA's racing secretary and handicapper, about repositioning Showcase Day in 2005 as a lead-in to the Breeders' Cup, which will be run at Belmont.

"With the Breeders' Cup in New York next year, [Lakow] mentioned the possibility of moving Showcase Day to Friday, the day before," Brida said. "It's an interesting idea and one we would like to explore further."