By David Grening
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – With handle down 9 percent through the first quarter of 2009, the New York Racing Association announced Friday it will cut purses for the upcoming Belmont spring meet, returning them to the levels they were at in 2007.
Purses for claiming races will receive cuts ranging from $5,000 to $7,000. Purses for open maiden races will be cut by $9,000, while New York-bred maiden races will have their purses cut by $5,000. Open allowance races will have their purses dropped by $10,000, while New York-bred maiden races will have a $6,000 purse reduction. Overnight stakes, which were worth $75,000 last year, will now be worth $65,000.
"It’s purely a function of the wagering,” said NYRA president and chief executive officer Charles Hayward. "We’re back to ’07 levels. At the end of June we’ll see what we do about Saratoga.”
Rick Violette, the president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said the purse cut is simply a sign of the times.
"NYRA is acting responsibly and has promised to continually evaluate the economy as we move forward and if things do improve purses can be increased,” Violette said.
Violette said one solution to defer further purse cuts would be for the North American Graded Stakes Committee to rescind the requirement that all Grade 1 races in 2009 carry a $300,000 purse, a $50,000 increase from 2008. Violette said at NYRA tracks alone, that stipulation cost overnight races $600,000.
"In this economy the way the handle has diminished that $600,000 could be better used in overnight purses,” Violette said. "We fully understand trying to maintain a high standard; it happens to be the wrong year to enforce it. It would be responsible to postpone that mandate for a better time in the future.”
Good news: Rebates for stakes fees
There is some good news for owners as NYRA will waive nomination fees for all stakes races and offer rebates of 50 percent or more of starting fees for stakes beginning with the Belmont meet.
In stakes races with purses of $250,000 to $600,000, owners of horses who start will get a 50 percent rebate of starting fees.
In stakes races that carry a $200,000 purse, the rebate will be 75 percent while stakes with a purse of $150,000 will offer a 66.7 percent rebate.
"With the economy the way it is we’re trying to help out the owners,” stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes said.
In another move, the NYRA will offer a complete entry-fee refund for running in the second of two grouped stakes races. For example, a horse that starts in both the Westchester and Metropolitan Handicap will have his entry fees for the Met waived.
There are nine other groupings of stakes that offer entry refunds for the second of the two races. The groupings are the Sheepshead Bay and New York Stakes; Manhattan and Man o’ War; True North and Tom Fool; Woody Stephens and Dwyer; Phipps and Go for Wand; Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks; Suburban and Whitney handicaps; Prioress and Test; and Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama.
Finally, the first three finishers from the Peter Pan will get entry and start fees waived for the Belmont Stakes, a savings of $20,000.