This year, Aqueduct Race Track was the only one to escape with a fast track on its signature spring date, April’s Wood Memorial program.
But Belmont Stakes day began on a “good” track, the Travers was won over a sea of slop and while Jockey Club day began with a dry surface, a truly torrential downpour turned Belmont into the world’s biggest mud-hole.
Tomorrow, Belmont Park will host New York Showcase Day, an occasion where Big Apple horses can show off their wares. Almost since its inception, it’s been the third highest handle day on the downstate schedule.
The attraction, aside from the closely matched, albeit slower fields of horses, was field size. Showcase Day usually attracts all limit fields. Tomorrow, 117 horses were entered in 10 races. On a level field, it would be a hell of a betting card.
But the Saturday forecast calls for deluge in the morning, followed by Precipitation Armageddon in the afternoon, then clearing towards evening.
How do you like your turf races, on or off the grass? And how do you like your wet tracks, opened or sealed? Sorry, but the prospects of rain dampens the enthusiasm for the handicapping process.
The point is that NYRA’s been trying to work out some bad weather karma and can‘t catch a break. Racetrackers have two words, and a singular meaning, for this: snake bit.
In that context, the state-bred program is collapsing under its own weight, the result of overexposure. New York-bred horses no longer need apologize for their existence, especially since May of 2003. But the overuse of conditioned claimers hasn’t helped their image lately.
Since state-bred races commonly overfill from day to day, the Showcase Day card has become less of a special occasion, the seven always entertainment stakes, topped by the Empire Classic, notwithstanding.
The quality of the breed has suffered, again under the weight of its own success. The breeders’ awards program has been so rewarding that every person with a horse farm wants to get in on the act.
And there are just too many mares of lesser quality being bred right now and its not doing the image of New York racing any good, or even the state-bred program for that matter. Amazing how quickly things change in the racing business.
The New York-bred program has faced significant challenges from without, too: the collapse of the U.S. economy last September and the burgeoning success of the Pennsylvania-bred program, whose growth is fueled by VLT revenues, have taken its toll.
Which, of course, makes the irresponsible and reprehensible inaction on the part of state government even more sinister, as it also negatively effects the quality of life within the state’s agricultural sector and green space concerns. Sorry, but the state’s legislators need to take a hit on this one, too.
In terms of tomorrow’s event, however, trainer Pat Kelly, in a NYRA release advancing the Empire Classic and focusing on the chances of Kelly’s veteran gelding, Naughty New York, he lamented the fact that his horse’s worst races have come on other big state-bred race days.
“Some of the worst races in [Naughty New Yorker’s] life are in that Classic,” Kelly said. “They’ve got muddy next to them in the past performance lines.”
With heavy rain in the forecast, the two turf races on the program — the Mohawk Handicap and the Ticonderoga — already have been rescheduled for Sunday, the final card of the Belmont Park fall meet.
Meanwhile, until fate’s fickle finger reverses the karma for both organizations, an antidote for snake venom might help.