12/11/2003 1:00AM

NYRA alters some stakes


Several significant changes were made by the New York Racing Association to its 2004 stakes schedule, which was released Thursday.

The list covers stakes run at Belmont Park's spring and fall meets, Saratoga, and Aqueduct in the fall. Earlier, NYRA released its 2004 Aqueduct winter meet schedule.

One notable change is the renaming of the Grade 1 Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont on Oct. 2 to the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational. Hirsch recently retired after writing about Thoroughbred racing for Daily Racing Form and its sister publication, The Morning Telegraph, since 1954.

At the 36-day Saratoga meet, eight stakes worth $65,000 apiece have been added to the schedule, which means at least one stakes a day will be run at the meet. In an effort to strengthen the fields for the Grade 1 Hopeful and Grade 1 Spinaway, two juvenile stakes were eliminated, the Saratoga Special and Adirondack. The Hopeful and Spinaway, which usually are run the last weekend of the six-week meet, have been moved up to the fourth week.

"We believe the Hopeful and Spinaway will now have stronger fields, and by moving them up earlier in the meet, the timing is better for the horses and horsemen to run them back at Belmont in the Futurity and the Matron," said Mike Lakow, NYRA's racing secretary and handicapper.

The Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies has undergone yet another distance change. The Grade 1 has been shortened to 1 1/4 miles from 1 1/2 miles. In 1990, the distance of the CCA Oaks was shortened to 1 1/4 miles, but it was changed back to 1 1/2 miles in 1998.

At Belmont Park's fall meet, the Grade 1 Vosburgh, which was shortened this year to 6 1/2 furlongs from seven furlongs, will be run at six furlongs in 2004. The distance change reflects NYRA's desire to make the Vosburgh a more attractive prep for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint.

NYRA's 2004 stakes schedule, which features 39 Grade 1's, is worth $37.2 million, up $1 million from this year.