12/04/2008 12:00AM

NYRA shakes up 2009 stakes calendar


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The New York Racing Association made some subtle and not-so-subtle changes to its stakes schedule for 2009.

The most noticeable changes will be at Saratoga, where NYRA has spread the wealth of Grade 1 stakes throughout the six weekends. The last two years, NYRA had to group three of its Grade 1 events on opening Saturday to be part of the Breeders' Cup Win and You're In program. That left the third Saturday of the meet without a graded event of any sort.

For 2009, NYRA left the Diana on the opening Saturday (Aug. 1) and teamed it with the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, and moved the Whitney back to the second Saturday (Aug. 8) and put it with the Test. The Sword Dancer and Alabama, grouped on the same day in 2008, will be a week apart in 2009, with the Sword Dancer on Aug. 15 and the Alabama on Aug. 22. In an attempt to strengthen Travers Day (Aug. 29), NYRA has moved the Grade 1 Ballerina to that card. It has usually been run the day after the Travers.

In another key change at Saratoga, the Hall of Fame Stakes has been moved to Friday, Aug. 14 to coincide with the new day for the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Hall of Fame officials wanted the ceremony to be on the same day as the Hall of Fame Ball. In past years the Hall of Fame Stakes and induction ceremonies were held on Monday.

In all, NYRA will offer 177 stakes races totaling $34,765,000 in purse money for 2009, topped by the $1 million Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown, on June 6. In 2008, NYRA's scheduled stakes were worth $34,345,000.

In order to comply with the North American Graded Stakes Committee standards that a Grade 1 race has a minimum purse of $300,000, NYRA had to raise the purses of 13 of its Grade 1 events by $50,000. Those races affected are the Acorn, Mother Goose, and Prioress at the Belmont spring/summer meet; the Go for Wand, Test, King's Bishop, Ballerina, Forego, Spinaway, and Hopeful at Saratoga; the Garden City and Jamaica (a new Grade 1 in 2009) at the Belmont fall meet, and the Gazelle at Aqueduct.

The Gazelle, restricted to 3-year-old fillies, was moved from the Belmont fall meet to the final Saturday in November to get away from the $750,000 Cotillion at Philadelphia Park and $400,000 Indiana Oaks at Hoosier Downs in early October.

"It's a Grade 1, but [early September] is the wrong place for it right now," said NYRA racing secretary P.J. Campo.

The Gazelle was one of several races moved. The Beaugay and Fort Marcy, turf races run on the last weekend of the Aqueduct spring meet, have been moved to the opening weekend of the Belmont spring meet. The Bold Ruler Handicap has been moved from early May at Belmont to the opening Saturday of the Aqueduct fall meet. It replaces the Sport Page Handicap as a prep for the Cigar Mile.

The Sport Page was one of eight stakes - totaling $800,000 in purses - that NYRA eliminated altogether. NYRA also cut the purses of 22 Aqueduct inner-track stakes $10,000 each. A third inner-track stakes, the Gravesend, had its purse cut from $100,000 to $65,000 after losing its graded status for 2009.

Among the stakes eliminated was the Ladies Handicap, advertised by NYRA as the oldest stakes race in the country run exclusively for fillies and mares. The Ladies was first run in 1868. It was not run in 2006 and with only 10 nominations, is in jeopardy of not being run on Dec. 14 as scheduled.

"I know there's a lot of history behind it, but it lost its grade several years ago; filly and mare races are a dime a dozen now, especially going long," Campo said. "I don't know if we're going to fill it next weekend. It's one of those races that just has fallen by the wayside."

In addition to raising the Grade 1 races by $50,000, NYRA raised the pot of the Bay Shore by $50,000 and the Nashua by $50,000. NYRA raised the purse of the A.P. Smithwick Steeplechase $25,000 to $100,000 while reducing the pot of the New York Turf Writers Cup from $150,000 to $100,000.

NYRA has renamed the Aqueduct Handicap the Evening Attire, honoring the recently retired gelding who won stakes at all of NYRA's tracks. NYRA also created two races, one being the $100,000 John Hettinger for New York-bred fillies and mares on turf during the Belmont fall meet. Hettinger, a former NYRA board member and horse advocate, died in September. NYRA also added the $80,000 Riskaverse Stakes at Saratoga.