04/17/2009 12:00AM

Purses cut to 2007 levels


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - With handle down 9 percent through the first quarter of 2009, the New York Racing Association announced Friday it will cut purses for the upcoming Belmont spring meet, returning them to the levels they were at in 2007.

Purses for claiming races will receive cuts ranging from $5,000 to $7,000. Purses for open maiden races will be cut by $9,000, while New York-bred maiden races will have their purses cut by $5,000. Open allowance races will have their purses dropped by $10,000, while New York-bred maiden races will have a $6,000 purse reduction. Overnight stakes, which were worth $75,000 last year, will now be worth $65,000.

"It's purely a function of the wagering,'' said NYRA president and chief executive officer Charles Hayward. "We're back to '07 levels. At the end of June we'll see what we do about Saratoga.''

Rick Violette, the president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said the purse cut is simply a sign of the times.

"NYRA is acting responsibly and has promised to continually evaluate the economy as we move forward and if things do improve purses can be increased,'' Violette said.

Violette said one solution to defer further purse cuts would be for the North American Graded Stakes Committee to rescind the requirement that all Grade 1 races in 2009 carry a $300,000 purse, a $50,000 increase from 2008. Violette said at NYRA tracks alone, that stipulation cost overnight races $600,000.

"In this economy the way the handle has diminished that $600,000 could be better used in overnight purses,'' Violette said. "We fully understand trying to maintain a high standard; it happens to be the wrong year to enforce it. It would be responsible to postpone that mandate for a better time in the future.''

Good news: Rebates for stakes fees

There is some good news for owners as NYRA will waive nomination fees for all stakes races and offer rebates of 50 percent or more of starting fees for stakes beginning with the Belmont meet.

In stakes races with purses of $250,000 to $600,000, owners of horses who start will get a 50 percent rebate of starting fees.

In stakes races that carry a $200,000 purse, the rebate will be 75 percent while stakes with a purse of $150,000 will offer a 66.7 percent rebate.

"With the economy the way it is we're trying to help out the owners,'' stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes said.

In another move, the NYRA will offer a complete entry-fee refund for running in the second of two grouped stakes races. For example, a horse that starts in both the Westchester and Metropolitan Handicap will have his entry fees for the Met waived.

There are nine other groupings of stakes that offer entry refunds for the second of the two races. The groupings are the Sheepshead Bay and New York Stakes; Manhattan and Man o' War; True North and Tom Fool; Woody Stephens and Dwyer; Phipps and Go for Wand; Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks; Suburban and Whitney handicaps; Prioress and Test; and Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama.

Finally, the first three finishers from the Peter Pan will get entry and start fees waived for the Belmont Stakes, a savings of $20,000.

John Lee to leave NYRA

John Lee, who has worked at the New York Racing Association for 18 years - the last two as director of communications and media relations - will resign his position effective at the end of the Aqueduct meet, April 26.

"It's been something I've been talking to Charlie [Hayward] about for a while,'' said Lee, who added he was not leaving to take another job. "It wasn't something that happened in the last 10 minutes or two weeks. It was a mutually agreed upon decision to part ways amicably.''

Lee, 56, said he hopes to stay in the communications business in New York, even if it means not being in the horse industry.

Hayward said NYRA plans to restructure the marketing and communications department with an announcement possible during the first week of the Belmont meet.

Dutrow looks to keep roll going

After going 3 for 3 on Friday's card, trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. has won with his last five starters at this meet. Dutrow, who went 2 for 2 on Thursday, is 9 for 13 since the main track opened on April 1.

Dutrow hopes to keep the ball rolling Sunday when he sends out Reptilian Smarts, who has a five-race winning streak of his own, in the featured second-level allowance race going 1 1/8 miles.

Dutrow claimed Reptilian Smarts for $15,000 the day the horse finished second in a one-mile race over the main track. Reptilian Smarts proceeded to reel off five consecutive wins - four in starter handicaps - in two-turn races over the inner track.

Reptilian Smarts is 0 for 4 over the main with two seconds and a third. Reptilian Smarts could get enough pace to set up his late kick, as Greenspirit, Don Misil, and Saratoga Lulaby all could get involved in the early pace.

Another closer to look out for is Helsinki, who should appreciate the switch from the inner track to the main. Trainer John Terranova is taking the blinkers off the horse.

Cornelio Velasquez was aboard all three of Dutrow's winners on Friday, which helped him break an 0-for-32 start to the meet. Velasquez rides Helsinki on Sunday.

Santagata makes a successful cameo

Jockey Nick Santagata briefly came out of retirement Thursday at Atlantic City to guide Easy Ashley to three-quarter-length victory in a $16,000 starter handicap.

Santagata had retired from race-riding last year, and took a job as a valet at NYRA. But he got a call from trainer Wesley Ward, who wanted him to ride Easy Ashley, and Santagata agreed after getting permission from track management.

According to Daily Racing From statistics, Santagata has 4,144 career victories. He said Friday that Easy Ashley was most likely his last ride.