ELMONT, N.Y. – The New York Racing Association will try to pack a lot into less time than usual at the Belmont Park spring/summer meet that begins Friday.
The combination of an unknown start date to the beginning of construction of a hockey arena on the grounds of Belmont Park and a desire to extend the Saratoga meet prompted NYRA officials to shorten the Belmont meet by one week. That resulted in a 48-day season that runs from Friday through July 7.
After an opening three-day week, there will be four-day race weeks (Thursdays through Sundays) through June 9 with one exception. Over the final four weeks of the meet, racing will be conducted five days a week (Wednesdays through Sundays).
First post on most days will be 1:30 p.m. Eastern, though there will be eight Thursdays (May 2 through June 27) when first post will be 3:05 p.m. The later post on Thursdays replace the twilight Friday programs as NYRA officials try to gather data on how a later start will impact handle on Thursdays.
Despite the shorter meet, there will still be plenty of action, with 59 stakes totaling $18.4 million in purses. The highlight, of course, is Belmont Stakes Day (June 8) when in addition to the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes – the last leg of the Triple Crown – there will be seven other Grade 1 stakes and 10 stakes total on the card.
Other big days include May 11 with the Grade 1 Man o’ War topping a five-stakes program, and the July 6 Stars and Stripes card, when there will be five graded stakes, including the $1 million Belmont Derby and $750,000 Belmont Oaks. Those are the first legs of NYRA’s inaugural Turf Triple, a series of turf stakes for 3-year-olds and 3-year-old fillies, which continues with the Saratoga Derby and Saratoga Oaks in August and concludes with the Jockey Club Derby and Jockey Club Oaks on opening weekend of the Belmont fall meet.
“I think there is a lot going on from a racing fan’s standpoint,” said Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior director of racing operations.
Though Belmont will have higher purses in overnight races as well as in lower-level claiming races, it will face competition for horses from Churchill Downs and Monmouth Park, which have also raised their purses. Moreover, the cost of doing business in those states is considerably cheaper than in New York.
“Are we down a few horses? Yes,” Panza said. “If purses are rising at other places that’s good for the overall health of the game and we’re in this for the long run.”
Panza said NYRA has worked with the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to try and reduce workers’ compensation premiums. There is a new insurance company available to horsemen, and Panza believes that “adding more players to the market place drives down premiums.”
NYRA also has several incentive programs to lure horsemen. A horse that made its last start at Oaklawn Park is eligible to receive $1,500 plus a 30 percent bonus on top of purse money earned for its first two starts at the Belmont meet. A horse based at Fair Hill is eligible for $800 to defray shipping costs when it starts at Belmont. Both the Oaklawn and Fair Hill incentive programs excludes stakes races.
NYRA is bringing back the Under-20 Claiming Challenge where horsemen with 20 horses or fewer compete for $80,000 in prize money. Mertkan Kantarmaci, who won the Aqueduct Under-20 Claiming Challenge, will have 19 horses based at Belmont this spring whereas he had four a year ago.
Jonathan Thomas, who had a small string at Belmont last spring, will have 22 based here this year and Neil Drysdale is shipping in four.
The jockey colony will be deep with Irad Ortiz, Jose Ortiz, Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario, Luis Saez and Johnny Velazquez – who spent all winter out of town – joining Manny Franco, Junior Alvarado, Dylan Davis, Jose Lezcano and the rest of the locally based riders.
General admission at Belmont is $5.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
Visit DRF.com for additional news, notes, wagering information, and more.