The VLT money will mean larger purses and, with that, a rush to return home to the Big Apple, as was done back in the day. Now, however, traditionally powerful New York outfits that have wintered in sunnier climes bring their runners to Keeneland, the boutique meet of spring in the Bluegrass, or to the soon-to-be opened Churchill Downs, where purses also out-perform New York's. And with Keeneland's new Polytrack surface, many horsemen are sending out their best horses to breeze over what is perceived to be a safer surface.
The new unofficial racing rite of spring now begins with the opening of the Oklahoma training track in Saratoga, located across Union Avenue from racing's grand-dame. In Saratoga, horses train in a more bucolic, relaxed setting, good for beast and man. This year that opening will come earlier, in mid-April instead of early May. That's when the big outfits will really return to New York to support the racing program which, thus far this year, is not close to resembling what it once was, or what it should be.