12/01/2014 1:19PM

Inner track opens for four-month run


OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Despite the thermometer reaching 60 degrees in these parts Monday, it’s beginning to look a lot like winter.

On Sunday and Monday, there was a bevy of horse vans lined up on the Belmont backstretch, loading horses to take south. The racing office has conceded to Mother Nature and will not card turf races beyond Thursday. Finally, in the biggest sign of all, Wednesday marks the opening of Aqueduct’s inner track.

For the next four months on this circuit, racing will be conducted on the one-mile inner track, with sprint races run primarily at six furlongs and two-turn races carded primarily at a mile and 70 yards to 1 1/16 miles.

Racing officials were hopeful of running turf races through this weekend, but with wet weather expected on and off this week, they did not take entries for turf on Friday. There are two turf races carded for both Wednesday and Thursday, but they are at the mercy of Mother Nature. During the 26-day fall meet from Oct. 29 through Sunday, Aqueduct ran 42 turf races and transferred 42 scheduled turf races to the dirt.

Racing on the inner track will be conducted through March 22. Following a six-day race week Dec. 10-15, there is a 10-day winter break from Dec. 16-25.

“The last two years, Aqueduct has averaged 7.06 starters per race,” said Martin Panza, the New York Racing Association’s senior vice president of racing operations. “We’re trying to take some steps to build up that starters-per-race. Certainly in the winter months on a dirt track, it’s very challenging.

“We’ll just see how it goes and play it by ear. If we need to go to eight races on weekdays, that might be an option,” Panza added. “It’s just important to keep field size up. We hope that we get a little bit better weather than we did last year. We’ve had some stables that have left a few more horses with us.”

Chad Brown, for example, said he will leave 36 in New York for the winter, 50 percent more than he did a year ago. Ken McPeek and Mike Maker also have more horses on the grounds.

While the majority of the winter stakes program is the same as in years past, many races have been moved on the calendar. The Interborough, a sprint for fillies and mares traditionally run on New Year’s Day, has been moved to Jan. 17. The Jimmy Winkfield, for 3-year-old male sprinters typically run on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is now scheduled for Feb. 28.

The stakes program for 3-year-olds remains the same, with the Jerome (Jan. 3), Withers (Feb. 7), and Gotham (March 7) all leading to the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial over the main track April 4. All four stakes offer qualifying points toward the May 2 Kentucky Derby.

NYRA has added the Jazil Stakes for 3-year-olds and up, to be run Jan. 19, moving the Evening Attire (Feb. 22) and Stymie (March 21) back a month. Two stakes eliminated were the Dearly Precious, a sprint for 3-year-old fillies that had averaged five starters since 2008, and the Kings Point for New York-breds.

NYRA is expected later this week to unveil details of its inaugural New York Claiming Championship Series, to be held March 21. It figures to be modeled after the popular Claiming Crown, which Gulfstream Park is holding this Saturday.

Wednesday’s feature is a $69,000, second-level allowance race for fillies and mares at a mile and 70 yards in which Lunar Surge looks like the one to beat.

Last winter, Lunar Surge won a maiden race and finished second to Belle Gallantey – now a multiple Grade 1 stakes winner – in two starts over the inner track. She is a closer, thus subject to pace, but Evening Show and Faith Hall look as though they prefer to do their running on the front end.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 2 Lunar Surge. Posted career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 85 in last start, but that race has come back weak, with horses going 6-0-1-0 in their next start. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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After competing in eight consecutive stakes, America won a first-level allowance race by 6 3/4 lengths for celebrity chef and owner Bobby Flay and trainer Bill Mott last out. She raced near the front that day and may employ those tactics again after breaking from the rail under Irad Ortiz Jr., who is staying in New York this winter and is expected to vie with his brother, Jose, for leading rider.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 1 America. Trainer Bill Mott is 14-8-1-0 with a $4.72 ROI over the past five years with last-out winners in routes on the inner dirt track at Aqueduct. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

D'Funnybone More than 1 year ago
Racing Purgatory here in New York until late April, when racing returns to Belmont. Time to hibernate until then. Maybe play some puppies and Jai Alai from sunny Florida. I was tuned off lately by Gulfstream. Maybe some Tampa Bay Downs.
martymar . More than 1 year ago
why not just change the inner dirt track to poly?
harpharper . More than 1 year ago
So that in 5 years they wouldn't have to change it back!
Nathan More than 1 year ago
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
What NYRA should do is this: Make the Saturday after Thanksgiving the last day of racing until after Christmas, taking most of December off, with racing resuming on the following schedule: December 26-January 1: Racing every day with a Noon first post. If New Year's Day falls on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, racing extends to Sunday (1/4 in 2015), if New Year's Day falls on Sunday, racing extends to Monday (1/2 in that instance). Unless racing goes every day to January 4, there are 10 races per day during this period with a Noon first post. If racing goes to 1/4, there are nine each day. Rest of January and February: Racing on Saturdays and Sundays ONLY with first post remaining at Noon. There would be 10 Races each day (except Super Bowl Sunday when there would be eight races), with racing also taking place on two Mondays: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Presidents Day. March: Fridays are added to the schedule with first post remaining at Noon until the clocks change, then 1:20 PM thereafter. There would be nine races each day EXCEPT for Gotham Day, which would have an 11:30 AM first post and 12 races (if the turf is usable at this point because of unseasonably warm weather, there would be 10 races offered on such days). If Palm and Easter Sunday fall during this period, there is racing on the preceding Thursday those weeks. April: Racing would then expand to four days a week with Thursdays added as turf racing becomes available. First post remains 1:20 PM, including on Wood Memorial Day with the last race of that program scheduled for around 7:30 PM. There would be nine races most days and 12 on Wood Memorial Day. If Palm and/or Easter Sunday fall at this time, there would be racing on the preceding Wednesday. That to me would be a more realistic schedule with a declining foal crop that would allow for bigger fields concentrated
Chas More than 1 year ago
Run that idea by those racing horses and see what they have to say! And do not take the dirty looks that you will get as an insult....
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
The horse people need to realize that bettors want big fields and there simply are not enough horses unless the turf is available to even run a four-day week in the winter. What would be needed for that (either at Aqueduct or if Aqueduct closes in a few years and if as some think will happen a grandstand is built for winter use at the training track at Belmont) the turf course (at Aqueduct or a newly built one inside the training track at Belmont) having a heating system constructed underneath (similar to the heating coils underneath the playing surface at Lambeau Field in Green Bay) that would potentially allow NYRA to have turf racing, even if not full-bore during the winter months. That in the years ahead will be the only way to maintain the current schedule as foal crops continue to decline.
harpharper . More than 1 year ago
Wake me up in April.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Just a slight comment. NY should just stick to 9 race cards on all days. It's unnecessary to do the 10 race cards thrown in on the weekends. This way it'll even out. Works perfect anyway...the early pick 5 and the late pick 4 are my plays. I read earlier in the year they were going to run less races at Saratoga...and then during Saratoga all you saw was 10 race cards every weekend. Totally unnecessary. Just stick with 9 race cards and it's all good. Hopefully I won't hex myself...but, I will say I LOVE the inner track.......it really is awesome. Good luck all.
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
As said in my other reply below, in the winter I would cut back to 2-3 days per week with 10 races most days. That would assure big fields on the days of the week when handle would be highest (Saturdays, Sundays and Monday holidays).
Chas More than 1 year ago
Yes...going to 8 races during the week days is the way to go...one less race on a weekday will not hurt the handle, especially if it leads to fuller fields...less racing means the number of races run on a day(8 instead of 9 or 10), not the number of days one races in week(5 is better than 4)....
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
I would actually look at cutting back to 2-3 days a week most of the winter and focus heavily on weekends when handle is highest then. That will allow for bigger fields and 10 race programs most days there is racing.
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Try and get your horse into a race.