Plenty to be happy about in New York besides NFL football
Posted: Saturday, January 21, 2012 2:39 PM
by Bob Ehalt
Giants fans are not the only New Yorkers wearing wide smiles these days.
Horsemen in the Big Apple have been as giddy as children on Christmas morning ever since December 28, when the infusion of cash from the gold mine better known as the Resorts World Casino New York City at Aqueduct was poured into purses at the New York Racing Association track.
“New York has always been one of the better places to race,” trainer David Jacobson said. “Now, it’s the best place in the world to race.”
Purses have increased by an average of 35% to 40% thanks to the casino, improving the quality of racing and sparking an unprecedented claiming frenzy at a time when the sport usually is hibernating.
“The last few weeks of racing have been even better than we hoped for,” said trainer Rick Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “The purse enhancements have given owners a chance to make economic sense of the game. The claiming game used to be dead here.”
If the national economy is still sputtering, no one could tell from monitoring the claim box at Aqueduct. From December 28 through January 20, a period with 18 racing days, there have been a staggering 116 claims at Aqueduct for a combined $1.9-million.
“Because of the higher purses, the claiming game has been very active and it’s also been hard to buy New York state-bred yearlings,” trainer Bruce Levine said. “There’s a buzz and electricity we haven’t seen in quite a while.”
The best example of the Black Friday-like rush for claiming stock came on January 14 when Itsagoodtendollars stepped into the paddock for the eighth race, a $59,000 optional claiming race for New York-breds, some carrying claiming tags of $25,000.
Second at the same level on December 3 in his previous start—when he was claimed by Winning Move Stable and trainer Dominic Galluscio and the purse was just $45,000—Itsagoodtendollars attracted an astonishing 12 claim slips. Put all of those $25,000 bids together and owners assembled $300,000 in hopes of landing the six-year-old Tale of the Cat gelding.
In the end, owner Elizabeth Loftus and trainer Gregory DiPrima hit the lottery and walked away with custody of Itsagoodtendollars, who finished second by a nose as a 2.20-to-1 favorite and earned $11,800.
“It’s just mind-boggling what’s going on at the claiming box,” Violette said.
There also has been a ten-way shake and several eight- and seven-way shakes for claimed horses, leading Jacobson to say: “It’s a lot easier to lose a horse than get one. When you find a horse that you like, you’re going to have company at the claim box.”
“I’ve been getting several calls every day from owners wanting to claim a horse,” added Jacobson, who was second in wins at the meet with 16 through January 19, according to NYRA statistics. “A year ago at this time, I’d get only one or two calls a week.”
The bliss has also extended into maiden, allowance, and stakes races. Trainer Ken McPeek, who decided to test the waters by keeping a small string of ten horses in New York over the winter, has been so pleased with the results that he plans to ship more horses north in about two months and expand his wintertime presence next year.
“It’s been going good in New York,” McPeek said by phone from Florida, where his main string is stabled. “I’m probably going to send another 20 horses to New York in mid-March and keep more horses there next winter.”
Mindful of the new purse structure, McPeek, who has a win and two seconds out of seven starts since January 1 at Aqueduct, said he has six New York-bred two-year-olds this year as opposed to just one a year ago.
Best of all, with the prosperity at the casino best reflected in a net win of $10.9-million during the week ended January 14 and purses scheduled for another boost at the Belmont Park meet in the spring, the happy days should continue well beyond the Super Bowl.
“We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg now,” Jacobson said. “The casino hasn’t even been promoted with billboards or television and newspaper ads and the place is packed. The money is going to continue to roll in, and that’s great news for us. Before, you were happy when you broke even financially. Now we finally have a chance to make a profit.”