Just when you think you have this game figured out, it throws something at you that you least expect.

As all know by now, the American Graded Stakes Committee last year downgraded Aqueduct’s premier race for three-year-olds, the Wood Memorial, from Grade 1 to Grade 2.

Since grading stakes began in 1974, the Wood has been a Grade 1 and the Grade 2 designation does not sit well with the majority of racetrack lifers.

Eleven Wood winners have won the Derby and four have won the Triple Crown. However, what have you done for me lately was the logic demanded by the AGSC logarithm.

Since Fusaichi Pegasus won the Wood and Kentucky Derby in 2000, Wood winners went 0-for-30 in Kentucky. Fourteen years have passed since Funny Cide finished second in the Wood and won in Louisville.

The Wood Memorial did not appear to be the strongest of three stakes for three-year-old run Saturday but Wood winning Irish War Cry demonstrated he was by far the strongest victor on Super Saturday.

When the AGSC announced the downgrade last year, the New York Racing Association responded in kind and lowered the purse by $250,000, which seemed like a sure way to secure Grade 2 status for the Wood in the future.

Though NYRA seemed to abet the Wood’s fall from grace, Irish War Cry may be able to restore some luster to the historic stakes. The Wood will celebrate its centennial in 2025 and maybe it can regain Grade 1 status by that time. Maybe it will not take that long.

Churchill Downs awarded 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to Irish War Cry for his win but the question remains; will Churchill reduce the downgraded Wood to 50 points next year or does its placement on the prep calendar demand otherwise? We shall see.

Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes, also downgraded to Grade 2 this year, looked strongest of the sophomore races on paper but maiden winner Irap held on to win in 1:50.39, getting the last three-eighths in :38.03, his final sixteenth in :13.04.

Santa Anita Park topped the three racetracks in attendance and total handle. Figures for the three tracks follow.

Aqueduct: Handle $2,152,102 on track; $13,689,894 Interstate; Total Handle (all sources) - $15,841,996. Attendance – not reported
Keeneland: Handle $2,387,633 on track; $20,586,859 Total Handle (all sources). Attendance - 32,610
Santa Anita: Handle $3,254,000 on track; $3,869,395 Intrastate; $13,731,610 Interstate; Total Handle (all sources) – 20,855, 005. Attendance - 36,155

Beyer Speed Figures:

Irish War Cry – 101
Irap – 93
Gormley - 88

NYRA NOW-AQUEDUCT LIVE A GOOD PARLAY:
Unfortunately, a bout with sciatica kept me home on Wood Day, but the new “NYRA Now” app made the off-track experience much better for viewers and bettors.

NYRA Now provides high definition video on android and iPhones and can stream to large screen TV’s via Google Chromecast. Other streaming platforms to be added this spring include Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku TV, Xbox one and PS4.

NYRA Now offers several different camera angles to watch live races and replays and a split-screen option to view two camera angles simultaneously.

Race calls and race analysis are offered in both English and Spanish. Andy Serling and Richard Migliore host the race analysis in English; Luis Grandison and Darwin Vizcaya provide the Spanish language version.

NYRA Now provides all the betting information currently available on track and is integrated with NYRABets to make wagering easy. The NYRA Now app will also integrate with NYRA’s Venue Next app when it debuts later this spring.

Aqueduct Live debuted on Wood Day, offering a kickoff to Spring and national coverage of NYRA racing on Fox Sports 2 for the second consecutive year. Greg Wolf replaced Jason Blewitt as host, as foretold by HRI last winter.

Wolf is personable and has boned-up on New York factoids but he lacks the New York moxie Blewitt absorbed from watching Harvey Pack, who pioneered racing replay shows in this industry. New York’s loss turned out to be South Florida’s gain.

NYRA Now has a few glitches, as any live programming has early on. The stream is about five seconds behind the live show and the results aren’t posted quickly--but you can watch the same live feed on NYRA Now that is shown on FS2 without commercials.

NYRA offered an additional Pick4 wager on races six through nine Saturday for NYRABets customers and, according to Pat McKenna, NYRA Director of Communications, the association was satisfied with the promotion.

The Pick 4 pool was $35,608 and the payoff of $5,610 for a $2 wager was about $800 more than the parlay. The NYRA bonus offered provided winners with a payoff over $6,400, which was good for the few players who dove into that pool.

PRIVATIZATION FINALLY LOOMING?
On the eve of the Wood, the New York State legislature gave preliminary approval to Governor Cuomo’s budget for this year—including a provision to reprivatize NYRA.

The NYS Legislature voted to pass the Fiscal Year 2018 NYS Budget Sunday night. All that remains is for Gov. Cuomo to sign off on it.

The legislature made several changes to Cuomo’s plan, specifically weakening the power of the Franchise Oversight Board, and he also has the power of line veto.

There is no indication that Cuomo will object to the legislative changes, but his past performances show he has changed his mind before. If that occurs, the legislature can override the veto by a two-thirds majority vote.

In response, NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay issued the following statement: “We thank the governor and legislature for their support in returning the New York Racing Association to private control.

“NYRA is the cornerstone of an industry responsible for more than 17,000 jobs and $2 billion in annual economic impact across our state. As a private entity, we look forward to continue to grow interest in our racing, expand our fan base, and promote New York’s important tourism and agriculture sectors.”

Saving New York racing would certainly fit in to Cuomo’s political narrative going forward. We will see how sincere he is when he indicates that he truly cares about the future of world class Thoroughbred racing in his state.

ELMONT, NY, April 11, 2017