10/17/2001 11:00PM

Weekend belongs to N.Y.-breds


The New York Racing Association gears up for its biggest day of the year, the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships on Oct. 27, by putting on another big show, the New York Showcase Fall Festival this weekend at Belmont Park.

The New York Showcase Fall Festival features seven stakes, worth more than $1 million, for New York-breds. Last year, several New York-bred champions, competed on the Showcase card, which this year will be run over two days for the first time since its inception in 1994.

On Saturday, three stakes will be contested: the $150,000 Mohawk Handicap for grass horses; the $125,000 Iroquois Handicap for filly and mare sprinters; and the $100,000 Sleepy Hollow for 2-year-olds. The stakes action is turned up a notch Sunday with the $250,000 Empire Classic for 3-year-olds and up; the $150,000 Ticonderoga Handicap for filly and mare grass runners; the $125,000 Hudson Handicap for sprinters; and the $100,000 Maid of the Mist for 2-year-old fillies.

The NYRA, wishing to capitalize on the festival, made the decision to expand the event to two days after dozens of New York-based vendors selling their wares showed up last year. Nearly 100 vendors, with products indigenous to New York State, including wines, crafts, and food, will be on site this weekend.

"Last year we had vendors from all over the state and we figured it was worth their while to make it a two-day event," said Bill Nader, senior vice president at NYRA. "By going two days, it gives it more of a festival theme."

Nader said in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center last month, an event such as the Fall Festival is good for New York.

"Between the Showcase and the Breeders' Cup, we can do our very best to maximize the opportunity to show that New York is strong," Nader said. "Like the mayor says, 'it's business, as usual.' It's great to be able to conduct a regional event like this and then follow with an international event the next week and do it well."

The NYRA will donate the proceeds from all admissions from the fall festival to the New York Heroes Fund, a charity set up by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association for the families of those men and women killed in the line of duty during the terrorist attacks on New York City.

Also on Sunday, emergency personnel and their families will be granted free admission to the track, courtesy of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, who will contribute the admission money to the Heroes Fund.

Martin Kinsella, the executive director of the New York State Breeding and Development Fund, said that while the Showcase has grown in scope, so too has the quality of the New York-breds participating in the Showcase races.

"Statebreds have improved markedly and the Showcase is emblematic of that," Kinsella said. "Overall, purses have gone up and the quality has improved. New York-breds are getting better and better."

In 2000, New York-breds accounted for record purse earnings of $52,611,491, a jump of 8.5 percent from the previous year.

The quality of the New York-bred program is best illustrated by statebred champions such as Gander, Critical Eye, Say Florida Sandy, and Pentatonic, who all have demonstrated an ability to compete successfully at the top level in open company.

The Fund's award program, widely considered to be one of the best statebred programs in the country, distributed more than $9 million in owner, breeder, and stallion awards last year.