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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


In the final analysis, it remains to be seen whether the trend of offering obscene purses results in raising the level of American racing to perceived higher international standards. But two things are clear:

Money will make the mare–and the colts and horses, too–go as the concluding legs of New York’s Turf Tiara series, the $750,000 Jockey Club Oaks Invitational and the $1,000,000 Jockey Club Derby drew more than its fair share of ship-in support.

It is no secret that American racing, especially in the Empire State, would like to be the representative for America’s answer to making Thoroughbred racing a true international sport.

Of course, every major circuit in America wants to be a kind of destination boutique venue, the continued use of race-day medication notwithstanding. Then not all racetracks comes replete with casino dole attached.

Depending on your point of view or station in life, this is money well spent because it raises the level of the game or, like America itself, the industry’s wealth gap will continue to widen between have and have-not horsemen.

Exactly how many fillies have shipped in for the Oaks depends on whether you consider a Canadian invader an international entrant or not. It is, after all, only a long van ride away.

So, if you include a Canadian-bred horse and a Canadian-based horseman foreigners, then five of the eight Oaks entrants have shipped in for the 1-3/8 miles of the Jockey Club Oaks on Belmont’s inner turf course.

True foreigners are the early line favorite Edisa (5-2), for trainer Alain Royer-Dupre; second favorite Wonderment (7-2), trained by Christophe’s brother, Nicolas Clement, and the third early choice, Love So Deep (9-2), for Jane Chapple-Hyam.

Canadian-bred and owned Desert Ride (8-1) is, however, trained by a hard boot by way of Brooklyn, Neil Howard, while Woodbine-based filly Art of Almost (5-1) is in the hands of the redoubtable Roger Attfield.

(A handicapping analysis both international races will be featured at HRI later today).

In the seven-figure Jockey Club Derby at 1-1/2 miles on Widener Turf, three of the nine European-based runners: second favorite Spanish Mission (3-1) and price shots San Huberto (10-1) for Fabrice Chappet and Pedro Cara (12-1) for trainer Mauricio Delcher.

Not sure how to categorize Tone Broke. The three-year-old Broken Vow chestnut started with Steve Asmussen, went to Dubai, came back to the U.S., up to Canada, where it was bred, but is currently based in Kentucky. So, who’s the favorite?

Really, do you need to ask? Chad Brown’s Digital Age, fourth in the Belmont Derby and second in the Saratoga Derby, is the 5-2 early line choice for the Jockey Club Derby with Javier Castellano in the boot.

Three foreign riders have come along out of loyalty and, of course, the promise of a huge payday: Jamie Spencer and Tony Piccone, have been winning partners for Spanish Mission and Pedro Cara, respectively, and Stephane Pasquier will accompany regular partner Wonderment.

The weather Friday calls for thunderstorms in the afternoon but the sun is only a day away. The course likely will be on the firm side with a bit of cut to it and should not impede any of the performers, with the possible exception of West Coasters who are used to the billiard tables out west.

It will be interested to see handle comparisons between these international style events and the races run in Franklin, KY on Kentucky Cup Day over a European-style course with its twists, turns, undulations and large fields.

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18 Responses

  1. Very mixed emotions today. I’m going to the US Open women’s finals, but that means I can’t go to Belmont for this card today. Should be an awesome card.

  2. Doc, in life this is known as a good problem to have. And if I might disagree, Kentucky Downs, while difficult, is far more interesting.

    You’re in luck; NBC or NBC Sports, either/or, are carrying to two big stakes from Belmont. Set your VCR and go enjoy the match…

    I’ll play the three stakes in NY but otherwise, Franklin KY will be my focus.

  3. Was at Belmont yesterday. I doubt that the Turf Tiara attracted one extra customer. NYRA closing the 3rd floor will probably discourage some patrons from returning. On a beautiful day, the best place to watch a race is closed. Also an 11 race card with the average win price of 3/2 doesn’t attract new customers. I am all for distance racing, but giving money away for these type of races doesn’t make sense.Second rate horse running for big purses won’t attract any new players. Racing needs some creative thinkers. With current management, not likely to happen.

  4. Aaron, even if there were more creative thinking, NYRA has NYS looking over their shoulder. Does anyone really know who pulls the strings there now?

    Martin Panza keeps cashing checks built on the International turf marathon program he instituted at Hollywood Park way back in the day and keeps putting the carbon copies back in. It works in that festival atmosphere for July 4 weekend. Belmont Fall, not so much.

    With a handful of exceptions, Gr 2 and Gr 3 Euros can ship over and beat most of our Grade 1 grass horses. As I was handicapping Saturday’s races this week, I thought to myself these are nice but not great horses running for an obscene amount of money.

    But look at the purses at Kentucky Downs. It might have more to do with venue, location and money than anything. In many ways, less is proving to be more when it comes to the actual sport.

    Finally, isn’t it all about the bottom line at NYRABets, rather than the “on-track experience” anymore?

  5. I feel like our horses are at a huge disadvantage in 3yo turf stakes, even more so at Belmont Park which is a pretty smooth transition for the Euros.

    It is a shame re: the 3rd floor being closed. My move is to get my Manhattan clam showder on the 2nd floor clubhouse, and go up to the 3rd floor to mark the late scratches and enjoy my soup while standing at those little shelves by the doors to the stands. Then sitting in the clubhouse stands and enjoying the fresh air while keeping track of things on the phone through NYRAbets. It’s an extremely relaxing way to unwind after a long week and I greatly look forward to that trip. If the experience is going to be lessened, I think I’d rather just go to the Longshots theater at Aqueduct and enjoy the day of racing in comfort.

  6. For a patron like myself, for decades and decades of being part of Belmont’s loyal and devoted weekend warrior contingency, seeing nice horses running for huge purses, construction on Hempstead Turnpike, half the track unused, the third floor closed, it is quite disheartening. Not to mention the closing of the Belmont Cafe for good starting October 7th.
    Guess the “Times they are a changin”(changed)………..

  7. Mr. NYRA,

    Did your read Doc’s comment?

    Racing in New York on non-event days can hardly afford to lose live bodies at the races. It’s disheartening for everyone.

    It’s like watching the Yankees on TV only to see half the seats behind home plate empty–and those in attendance more interested in what’s on their phones!

  8. Mark,

    As stated above, disheartening, indeed.

    Construction vis a vis infrastructure will never be finished in NY. Hell, it hasn’t really begun anywhere in the country now, has it?

    At least someday the Arena will be completed and the grounds will get some use, bring an energy vibe back to the track grounds, even if it’s not for racing. It may not be the answer but it certainly is a positive–compared to empty parking lots.

    And happy that the hockey team, a former dynasty, is back in the county where it all started. Baby steps…

  9. Mark, didn’t know the Belmont Cafe was closing on Oct. 7th. I have been going to Belmont forever. Stopped going to Aqueduct when the casino came in. If any floor should be open at Belmont its the 3rd floor. The best place to actually watch a race outside on a nice day.
    Sadly, horse racing is now just a simulcast game. You can still go to Belmont, sit outside on nice days and walk inside to watch the race on TV. That is the state of NY racing now.

  10. It’s such a shame, since Belmont really is an absolutely beautiful place. And getting that fresh crisp fall air while watching the races live is a joy that is difficult for me to accurately reflect in words. Remember when the NYC OTBs were still around, but your payoffs were higher if you bet on track? I say that rhetorically, as I know everyone remembers. I wonder what effect it would have if the on track bet still paid a slightly higher return than an internet bet. And if they tried that again, you could still bet through your NYRA Bets account on-track with your phone if you wanted since the NYRA wifi will pick up the location and award you the track price.

  11. Doc,

    The late, great Cary Fotias and I suggested year’s ago that there should be some kind of on-track bonus, whether it was on winnings from a certain race, or a certain pool, or a process whereby you mail in or bring losing tickets, denomination TBD, for a tiny % refund.

    Of course, that would require state approval and the like. But since they run things right now, this might be a good way to promote on-track attendance, support the sport and their own coffers..

    Do I think something like this would happen?

    Do bears use toilet tissue?

  12. Does Belmont have a long-term future for horseracing on Long Island?
    Or, will the hockey arena be the beginning of it’s end?
    First hockey gets it started then, some time from now –
    The razing of Belmont Park for the building of a massive sports complex including a Football stadium for the return of the NY Jets to New York.

  13. JW,

    A novel notion, but since the talk has been of Aqueduct disappearing and Belmont Park being converted as an all-season racing venue, with possibly a synthetic surface suitable for winter racing and/or training, your scenario seems highly unlikely. Of course, anything can happen.

    But this is not akin to casino dole disappearing from purse accounts.

    And what else, leave the Giants in New Jersey?

  14. Is it foolishly optimistic to wonder if this eventually ends up (post-construction) with Belmont getting lights and running weeknight cards in the spring and fall, where spending the night in the Garden Terrace dining area becomes a big thing the way it sort of was back in the day at Roosevelt Raceway? I wonder what those late P4 pools would look like, with the sequence starting when West Coasters are getting out of work.

  15. Doc, there was some talk about a year or so ago, that Belmont would in effect become the “New Yonkers” as they go full blown casino and a “Yonkers at Belmont” meet, with a one mile harness track, be constructed within Belmont huge oval.

    Not only would that bring added life to the venue in the good weather months; it would harness racing back to Long Island “where it all began,” in NY, as the RR flacks promoted.

    But enough of the fanciful for me, back to the grinding day-to-day…

  16. NYRA said no when asked by Yonkers to run trots at night at Belmont. However, NYRA wants to run flats at night at Belmont and the law says harness owns the nights. Some compromise would have to be agreed upon for anything to happen and NYRA’s leadership has since changed.
    The RFP for the Islanders Arena forbids a full-blown casino at Belmont. Once that project is complete, that could all change.

  17. Thanks guys – I honestly did not know that there was an issue with harness having the rights on night racing. Speaking of which, I have no idea what the laws are with this, but if they are actually discussing an eventual shutdown of AQU, would the existence of the casino make this difficult? Does the casino only exist since it was going to be attached to a thoroughbred race track?

  18. The only thing that matters at the bottom line is that the track needs the casino more than the casino needs the track. How the casino got there should matter, but it doesn’t now…

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