by John Furgele
The Triple Crown is over, or is it? Well, it really isn’t. The Big Apple Triple Crown is only one-third completed. For those who don’t know, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) sponsors a triple crown for three year old New York breds, and it is more than a good series. The first leg was the Mike Lee Stakes, a seven furlong affair that was contested at Belmont Park a few weeks ago. In a very competitive race, Amber Jack was first in a very nice time of 1:21.64. The connections have already stated their intention to bring the colt to Finger Lakes Race Track for the New York Derby on July 20th. Yes, folks, there is a New York Derby and it is a 1 1/16 mile race at the venerable old track in Farmington, New York (Exit 44 of the NY Thruway). If Amber Jack wins there, it’s on to Saratoga on August 21 for the 1 1/8 mile Albany Stakes and a shot at Triple Crown glory.
Each race progresses in prize money. The Mike Lee had a purse of $125,000 and both the “Derby” and the “Albany” have $150,000 purses. If a horse wins all three, a $250,000 bonus will go to the connections, meaning that a Big Apple Triple is worth $505,000, which is not a bad chunk of change to say the least. New York Racing is very good of course, and this is another example of something positive and at the least, a nice incentive to breed in New York. And, it’s great that the series uses three different venues and it’s terrific to see Finger Lakes included. As a native Western New Yorker, I have soft spot for “The Thumb,” as it is called by the natives.
The Stephen Foster Handicap was contested last Saturday, and rumors of Fort Larned’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Last year’s Breeder’s Cup Classic winner was lethargic in two earlier starts, but he more than made up for those by blazing to an easy victory at Churchill Downs. He got the lead early and cut sizzling fractions of 23.69, 46.96, 1:10.48 and 1:34.53, before completing the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.45. More importantly, he looked like he had more in the tank. The Foster was a “win and you’re in,” automatically qualifying FL for this year’s Breeder’s Cup Classic.
Speaking of the Breeder’s Cup, it was announced that the 2014 edition will be at Santa Anita Park. This decision does not sit well with NYRA, which had hoped to bring next year’s races to Belmont Park, which last hosted in 2005. The problem with NYRA and Belmont is several fold. One, the event is now a two day affair with the big races contested in prime time. Churchill Downs has lights, so prime time is good time in Louisville. And, with Santa Anita being in the Pacific time zone, time is not of the essence as it would be here. Ideally, Saratoga would host the Breeder’s Cup, but without lights and an early November date, that is unlikely. It would be tough—and expensive—to maintain the track from Labor Day to Halloween with no racing. If NYRA is ever going to secure the rights, they will have to make accommodations.
The legislative session in New York is about to end, and it has been proposed that four casinos be built in New York. One is slated for the Southern Tier, one for the Capital Region, another in the Hudson Valley and another at a place to determined. Many states have subscribed to the theory that they better build casinos because residents are taking their money to states that have them. There will be a referendum this fall, where New Yorkers will decide if casinos should be constructed, since this would require an amendment to the New York State Constitution.
Personal feelings aside, I’m not sure if this is a great idea or not. Will it create new revenue streams? Of course, but what impact will it have on horse racing? As we know, the coveted demographic is 25 to 54, and most young people do not spend their gambling monies at the race track or their local OTB. And, based on VLT action at Finger Lakes, Saratoga Raceway, Tioga Downs, Vernon Downs and Yonkers Raceway as well as Aqueduct, it is clear that people do frequent these establishments and spend their dollars.
For some reason, it seems like the knee jerk reaction to get more money into the state coffers. It’s also, in some ways, a give up. Why not come up with ways to get people to the track and spend a day betting on the ponies? Instead of just accepting the fact that the 30 year old would rather play blackjack instead of playing the horses is giving in too easily. Why not build entertainment around the horses and the respective tracks?
The one problem with horse racing is that days are long and there isn’t tons of action. A 1 pm post time with nine races usually ends around 5 pm, and most races take less than two minutes to complete. That’s 18 minutes of action over four hours, which means a lot of down time. What can be done to make visiting a track, OTB or Ez Bet more attractive? It’s much easier to go to the VLT where there can be constant action for hours and hours.
I won’t predict anything here, but I have a hunch that New Yorkers will reject the casino bill, in part because of the politics, in part because of the morality, in part because of dislike for Governor Cuomo, and in part, just because. Here’s hoping that our legislative leaders have some type of backup plan if the casinos are voted down.
Finally, it’s another great Saturday of racing at Belmont Park with the $300,000 Mother Goose Stakes for the three year old fillies going 1 1/16 miles. It’s a prestigious race with a colorful history. Past winners include Rachel Alexandra (2009), Serena’s Song (1995), Turnback the Alarm (1992), Go for Wand (1990), Ruffian (1975) and Chris Evert (1974–not the tennis player). Some of these fine fillies’ names should ring a bell and for those who don’t know of their greatness, they named stakes races after Go for Wand and Turnback the Alarm, which does say something about royalty and legacy.
Until next time…