Updated on 09/17/2011 10:54PM

NYRA shakes up stakes schedule


Ozone Park, N.Y. - The cash-strapped New York Racing Association will cut $3.5 million from its traditional stakes program in 2006 while adding some luster to the already jam-packed Saratoga meet by moving the Woodward Stakes from Belmont to the Spa and restoring a third stakes in the juvenile division for each gender.

NYRA cut nine stakes races from its schedule and slashed the purses of 50 others from $10,000 to $250,000. Stakes receiving the most significant cuts were Grade 1 staples such as the Jockey Club Gold Cup (by $250,000) and Coaching Cub American Oaks ($200,000). The Metropolitan Handicap, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, Flower Bowl Invitational, Beldame, and Alabama each sustained cuts of $150,000.

The purses of the Champagne, Frizette, Suburban, and Vosburgh, were all cut by $100,000. The Grade 3 Discovery was returned to $100,000 after having its purse bumped to $250,000 in 2005 because it was run on Breeders' Cup Day.

NYRA said it would return some of that stakes money in the form of overnight stakes races that will be written arbitrarily throughout the year. Most of those purses will be $65,000.

Four stakes received purse increases, including the newly named Woody Stephens, formerly the Riva Ridge Stakes, run on Belmont Stakes Day. That race, the Gotham, now a two-turn race on the inner track, and the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, a turf race at Saratoga, were all bumped by $50,000. The Victory Ride was increased $25,000.

The Woodward, normally run the first weekend of Belmont's fall meet, will now be run the last Saturday of the Saratoga meet (Sept. 2). With the Woodward at Saratoga, NYRA eliminated the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap from the schedule. Other stakes eliminated were the Astarita, Belmont Breeders' Cup, Cowdin, Flash, Huntington, Lawrence Realization, Valley Stream, and the Meadowbrook Steeplechase.

"We weren't getting Whitney horses to run back in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup,'' NYRA president Charles Hayward said. "By giving [horsemen] that extra race hopefully we can keep some good older horses up there.''

NYRA also moved the Brooklyn Handicap, a race for older horses, from its spring meet to its fall meet.

Another key change at Saratoga is the return of one stakes race in each juvenile division. In 2004, NYRA eliminated the Adirondack and Saratoga Special. In 2005, it brought back those races and scrapped the Sanford and Schuylerville. In 2006, all of those races will be run with the Schuylerville and Sanford carded for the first and second day of the meet, respectively.

"We thought putting another stakes back on the schedule would ensure a broader crop of 2-year-olds at Saratoga,'' Hayward said. "If you got three shots at the apple and if your horse gets a cough or if [the trainer] doesn't like the work they still got a chance to run back in a stakes.''

Closing weekend of the Saratoga meet will offer stronger racing than in recent years. In addition to the Woodward on Saturday, the Spinaway and the Hopeful have been moved later in the meet and will top the Sunday and closing-day Monday cards, respectively.

In explaining the hefty stakes purse cuts, Hayward said that the percentage of total purse money NYRA paid out in stakes in 2005 was 31.6 percent. Hayward said that percentage should be about 28 percent, which will be the case in 2006.

In another change to the schedule, Belmont will not begin running twilight racing on Fridays during its spring meet, which opens May 3, until after the Belmont Stakes. The 2006 Belmont, the third leg of the Triple Crown, will be run on June 10.

Some of the changes

* Woodward Stakes moves to Saratoga

* Purses for 50 stakes races are cut a total of $3.5 million, from $10,000 to $250,000 each, including the following:

Jockey Club Gold Cup$250,000$750,000
Coaching Club Oaks200,000300,000
Flower Bowl Invitational150,000600,000
Metropolitan Mile150,000600,000
Joe Hirsch Turf Classic150,000600,000

* Third stakes race for 2-year-olds of each sex restored to Saratoga

* Peter Pan Stakes now three weeks before Belmont Stakes

* Riva Ridge on Belmont day renamed for Woody Stephens