by Karen M. Johnson
The New York Racing Association released its 2008 stakes schedule Dec. 12, following approval by NYRA’s board of trustees at its monthly meeting. The New York State Racing and Wagering Board still must give its approval, a standard procedure.
The stakes schedule, which reflects more than $34 million in purses and 39 grade I events, underwent some major changes in the handicap turf division for males. The $500,000 Man o’ War (gr. IT), a fixture at Belmont Park’s fall meet, has been moved to the summer meet, and will be run July 12, replacing the Bowling Green Handicap.
The $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT), traditionally run the third Saturday of the Saratoga meet, will be run one week later, Aug. 16.
“Moving the Man o’ War to (July 12) gave better spacing for our turf races,” said Paul J. Campo, NYRA’s racing secretary and handicapper. “In previous years, we had three races in a seven-week span: the Sword Dancer at Saratoga, and the Man o’ War and Turf Classic at Belmont Park. We found that schedule didn’t really work. One of the races was always getting hurt, and usually, that was the middle one. So, we decided to move the Man o’ War in the Bowling Green spot.”
As usual, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) will be run four weeks (Sept. 27) before the Oct .25 John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park.
Another notable change to Belmont’s stakes schedule is the return of the Brooklyn Handicap (gr.II) to the distance of 1 1/2 miles. Since 1994, the Brooklyn, which was run at Belmont’s fall meet this year, was contested at 1 1/8 miles. The Brooklyn returns to the summer meet in 2008, and will be run June 6.
The return of the Brooklyn to a marathon distance makes it one of the country’s prep races for the inaugural running of the $500,000 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Marathon for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/2 miles at Santa Anita on Oct. 24.
“The Breeders’ Cup has added a $500,000 race on Oct. 24 (Dirt Marathon), so some racetracks have worked together to create a pattern for this category,” Campo said. “Keeneland, California, New York, and Philadelphia Park are putting on similar races as well.”
The centerpiece of NYRA’s stakes schedule is the $1-million Belmont Stakes (gr. I), the third leg of the Triple Crown, to be run June 7. Five other stakes will be contested on the Belmont Stakes card: The Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT), the Acorn Stakes (gr. I), the Just a Game Handicap (gr. IT), the True North Handicap (gr. II), and the Woody Stephens Stakes (gr.II).
The $400,000 Just a Game and four other NYRA races were upgraded by the American Graded Stakes Committee for 2008: The Lake George at Saratoga was upgraded from grade III to grade II, while Belmont’s Miss Grillo was upgraded to grade III, the Sands Point to grade II, and the Pilgrim to grade III. The Nassau County Breeders’ Cup at Belmont was downgraded to grade III.
The $1-million Travers Stakes highlights the Saratoga meet and will be contested Aug. 23.
Aqueduct’s stakes schedule features the April 5, $750,000 Wood Memorial (gr.I), a stepping-stone to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). The Wood Memorial will be joined by the $300,000 Carter Handicap (gr. I), which annually attracts some of the best sprinters in the country.
Aqueduct’s winter/spring meet is scheduled for 83 days, Jan. 1-April 27. Belmont’s spring/summer stand is slated for April 30-July 20. Saratoga's traditional six-week meet begins July 23 and runs through Labor Day, Sept. 1. Belmont’s fall championship meet kicks off Sept. 5 and continues through Oct. 26. Aqueduct’s fall meet concludes NYRA’s 2008 racing schedule--Oct. 29-Dec. 31--and includes a 10-day holiday break.