Horse racing is a dying sport or so, at least, goes one sort of conventional wisdom, in the face of declining foal crops, handle, field size, and crowds. Fifty years ago, more than 50,000 people went to Aqueduct on the 4th of July weekend to watch the historic Suburban Handicap, in which Iron Peg defeated Kelso, a two-time winner of the race who was named Horse of the Year for five consecutive years, 1960 – 1964, an unprecedented accomplishment and one that will never be repeated.
The Suburban is still run on the holiday weekend, though now at Belmont Park, and it’s been a while since a horse of Kelso’s stature ran in it—though it’s also true that it’s been a while since a horse of Kelso’s stature ran anywhere.
It’s also been a while since 50,000 people came out to see the Suburban; last year, a shade over 5,000 turned out. Various reasons are offered for why people don’t go to the race anymore: you don’t have to go to the races to the bet; other types of gambling are more attractive; people have more entertainment options; horse racing is tinged with overtones of cheating and medication abuse.
Earlier this year, the New York Racing Association’s president and CEO Chris Kay and senior vice-president of racing operations Martin Panza announced the first of several changes to the racing schedule, creating “big event” days by concentrating major stakes and prize money on fewer days in order to attract bigger crowds and more gambling dollars. The first of these was the day of the Belmont Stakes, which offered more than $8 million in purses and which more than 100,000 attended, drawn by the prospect of California Chrome winning the first Triple Crown since 1978.
The second big event day for New York Racing was last Saturday. Billed as “Stars and Stripes Day,” the day was anchored by the Belmont Oaks Invitational and Belmont Derby Invitational, Grade I races on the turf that had formerly been run during Belmont’s fall meet under different names (the Garden City and Jamaica respectively), to which more than two dozen invitations had been offered to horses from around the world.
“We want to see,” said Panza, “how we stack up against international horses, on our home field.”
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2 thoughts on “NYRA Built It, And They Came”
It was a terrific day of racing, although Mr. Speaker’s thrilling victory did cost me a multi race wager. I hope they do this again next year.
It was great to see this.
I recently posted my own idea for 2015 that would basically extend the racing “season” by 3-4 weeks with a new, three-day meet at Thanksgiving at Belmont Park that for now I’m calling “The International Meet of Champions.” This meet would be designed to be truly just that: Racing on Thanksgiving day and the two days after ONLY with just 31 races at the meet (nine on Thanksgiving, all for two year olds and 11 on the two days after, Friday for females and Saturday open to both sexes with first post all three days at 11:00 AM) and 22 of the 31 races stakes events that cover just about every division you can think of.
Mostly existing stakes would make up this new championship meet, designed to be the fourth leg of a new International Champions Series following three earlier legs: One in Ireland (the new Irish Champions weekend taking place this year on September 13 at Lepardstown and Sept. 14 at The Curragh), The Arc de Triophme Festival (October 4 & 5 at Longchamp this year) and what currently is British Champions Day that is currently run in mid-October at Ascot but is expected if Irish officials who want a three-race European championship get their way would be pushed back two weeks and expanded to two days on the same weekend as the Breeders’ Cup in most years. NYRA would be piggybacking onto this series with this as the fourth leg and this meet would be designed to land a lot of Euros for the 11 turf stakes, which would be the only grass races run at this meet save for possibly a 2 1/8-2 1/4 Mile grass race for fillies and mares.
Since it would be after the Breeders’ Cup, it would allow NYRA to change the distances of some races to longer distances that is needed anyway and that many in New York have been clamoring for. Most notable of these would be The Jockey Club Gold Cup, which would be the main event of this new meet returned to the 1 1/2 Mile distance it was run at from 1976-’89 with the Beldame and Flower Bowl also lengthened to 1 1/2 Miles. It also would see what would be the only two year old stakes in North America at 1 1/4 Miles as the Pilgrim (which would fittingly headline Thanksgiving Day) and Miss Grillo on turf would be lengthened to 10 furlongs. It would be very interesting to see if horses with serious Derby aspirations the following year would make their final starts as two year olds going 10 furlongs on the grass in the Pilgrim. There would also be the return of the Display (at its former 2 1/4 Mile distance on dirt) and The Gallant Fox as a 2 1/2 Mile grass race. That would be the kind of meet this is.