02/08/2017 3:50PM

NYRA cuts purses for Wood Memorial, Phipps; Suburban gets a boost

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The Grade 2 Wood Memorial, New York’s last major prep for the Kentucky Derby, and the Ogden Phipps Stakes, a Grade 1 event for older fillies and mares that continually drew short fields, have had their purses cut by $250,000 each, it was announced Wednesday as the New York Racing Association released its stakes schedules for the Aqueduct and Belmont Park spring meetings. Both races will be worth $750,000.

Meanwhile, the Suburban Handicap, a Grade 2 race for older males with a long history, had its purse raised by $250,000 as NYRA looks to strengthen its older male division and lure top 4-year-old Arrogate to New York this summer.

Last December, it was announced by the American Graded Stakes Committee that the Wood Memorial had lost its Grade 1 status for the first time since 2001. The Wood Memorial, which had carried a $1 million purse since 2009, has not produced a top-three finisher in the Kentucky Derby since 2003.

“Being relegated to a Grade 2 and looking back over the last five or 10 runnings of the Wood, and with current conditions, it was the proper thing to do,” Martin Panza, senior director of racing operations for NYRA, said about the Wood’s purse cut.

Panza would not define “current conditions,” but his remarks come as NYRA might have to make purse cuts as a result of a slots deal between Genting and Nassau County Off-Track Betting Corp. that could lead to less money for purses.

Aqueduct will offer 23 stakes worth $3,495,000 – a $410,000 reduction from last year – during its spring meet March 31 through April 23. The Wood Memorial on April 8 tops a five-stakes card that also includes the Grade 1, $400,000 Carter; the Grade 2, $300,000 Gazelle; the Grade 3, $150,000 Excelsior; and the Grade 3, $250,000 Bay Shore.

The Excelsior and Bay Shore each had their purses cut by $50,000, as did the Grade 3, $150,000 Distaff, a seven-furlong race for fillies and mares April 9.

The Belmont Park spring/summer meet will offer 62 stakes worth $18.9 million, a $300,000 reduction from the 2016 spring/summer season. The Rags to Riches and Belmont Coronation Invitational, run for the first time in 2016, were not carded for 2017.

The Suburban has been a Grade 2 since 2009, and its purse was $500,000 for the last three years. Panza said he wants to strengthen the older male division and make the purses for all the graded stakes on dirt at least $750,000. The Suburban, at 1 1/4 miles and to be run July 9, could work out timing-wise for Arrogate, the 2016 champion 3-year-old male who won the $12 million Pegasus World Cup last month at Gulfstream. Arrogate, last year’s Travers winner, is unlikely to run at Saratoga since the Pacific Classic is scheduled for Aug. 19 at Del Mar.

“We had already made the decision to up the Suburban before Arrogate won the Pegasus,” Panza said. “We decided to try to strengthen the older horse division a little bit.”

The Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap went from $1.25 million to $1.2 million in 2017. The Met Mile is part of the undercard of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown, on June 10. The Ogden Phipps, which had its purse raised from $400,000 to $1 million in 2014, also is part of that program.

“We kept getting six-horse fields for $1 million; we figured we could get the same six for $750,000,” Panza said. “For $750,000, it’s still one of the largest purses out there for fillies and mares.”

The Bed o’ Roses Invitational had its purse raised by $100,000 to $250,000 and was moved to June 9 as part of a five-stakes program. The Intercontinental (June 8) and the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational (June 9) also had their purses increased by $100,000.

The Grade 3 Dwyer, for 3-year-olds, had its purse dropped by $100,000 to $150,000. The Belmont Derby, for 3-year-olds on turf, is now worth $1.2 million, a $50,000 reduction. The Belmont Derby, Belmont Oaks, Suburban, Dwyer, Belmont Sprint Championship, and Prioress are all part of the July 8 Stars & Stripes program.