12/04/2009 1:00AM

Wood Memorial tops 29 Aqueduct stakes


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Aqueduct will conduct 29 stakes worth a total of $3,555,000 in the first four months of 2010 as the New York Racing Association on Friday released a partial stakes schedule for next year.

NYRA sliced $450,000 off its stakes schedule when compared to the same period in 2009, when Aqueduct hosted 32 stakes worth $4,005,000. Track officials said that two New York Stallion Stakes, each worth $100,000, that were cut at Aqueduct are scheduled to be brought back at Belmont Park in the spring. For 2010, NYRA eliminated the $150,000 Bed o' Roses Handicap, a seven-furlong race for fillies and mares that had been downgraded to a Grade 3 by the North American Graded Stakes Committee. The Grade 2 Distaff, formerly run at six furlongs on the inner track in March, will be run at seven furlongs over the main track on April 17.

The purse for the Grade 1 Carter was reduced by $50,000, to $250,000, and the purse of the Grade 3 Comely for 3-year-old fillies was reduced from $150,000, to $100,000. The Next Move Handicap was eliminated, but in its place is the Ladies Handicap. The Ladies, not scheduled this year after being run 137 times - the first time in 1868 - was brought back and replaces the Next Move. Formerly run at 1 1/4 miles, the Ladies will be run at 1 1/8 miles on March 27.

The Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial for 3-year-olds is the highlight of the Aqueduct meet and will be run April 3 along with the Carter, Bay Shore, and Excelsior.

While not announced in the stakes schedule press release, overnight purses will be cut an average of 7 percent beginning Jan. 1, according to NYRA president Charlie Hayward.

Hayward said that NYRA chose not to announce its complete 2010 stakes schedule for several reasons, most notably the economic climate. Hayward said NYRA is budgeting for a 9.5 percent decline in handle at Aqueduct and Belmont and a 5 percent decline in handle at Saratoga in 2010.

"I think it's possible the economic climate could improve, but I'd hate to put out a stakes schedule based on handle assumptions," Hayward said Friday afternoon. "This will give us three months to see where handle goes."

Hayward also said it was a competitive disadvantage for NYRA to release its complete stakes schedule and allow other tracks to plan their stakes program around NYRA.

Hayward said NYRA hopes to announce the remainder of the 2010 stakes schedule following its monthly board of trustees meeting the first week of March.