Finger Lakes Ready for 50th Racing Season

The western New York track has restored nine state-bred stakes suspended last year.

Finger Lakes Casino & Racetrack in western New York will celebrate its 50th year of Thoroughbred racing with a 163-day meet that begins April 20.

Finger Lakes, located south of Rochester, opened May 23, 1962. It has long been known as a haven for New York-bred runners, and this year’s stakes schedule will feature 13 state-bred events.

Nine of the stakes were suspended in 2011 because of a reduction in funding from the New York Thoroughbred Development Fund in the wake of the shutdown of New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. The funds were restored and will support a rstakes program worth about $1 million.

Major events include the $150,000 New York Derby, a 3-year-old race part of the Big Apple Triple, on July 21; the $100,000 Aspirant for 2-year-old colts and geldings and the $100,000 Lady Finger Stakes for 2-year-old fillies Sept. 3; and the $200,000 New York Breeders’ Futurity for 2-year-olds Sept. 29.

Finger Lakes will race four days a week—Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays—before adding Thursdays May 10. First post time generally will be 1:10 p.m. EDT, with a 12:35 p.m. start on Fridays. First post will move to 12:15 p.m. Nov. 5.

As usual during the first few weeks of the meet, almost all races will be carded at the almost workout distance of 4 ½ furlongs; many of the local horses that compete at Finger Lakes are laid up for the winter.

Finger Lakes in 2004 became the first Thoroughbred track in the state to install video lottery terminals. Purses were raised about 30% that year and totaled $16.44 million for an average of $102,798 per day, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems.

Gaming revenue has held fairly steady at the wine country racetrack since then. In 2011 Finger Lakes paid $16.6 million purses for an average of $105,755, according to TJCIS figures. Field size last year averaged 7.43 horses per race.

The minimum purse in the first condition book is $9,000.

Track officials reported that six-time leading jockey John Grabowski, a local fixture, will train this year after retiring from the saddle last year with 3,401 career wins. The 50-year-old will begin with a six-horse stable.

“I get on my own horses and I enjoy it,” Grabowski told Finger Lakes officials. “This was my plan, and I want to do things the proper way.”

Grabowski trained at Finger Lakes in 1992-93 and won 18 races from 70 starters. He returned to riding in 1994.

On opening day trainer Chris Englehart and jockey John Davila Jr. will be honored for winning their respective titles in 2011. Englehart has won nine consecutive training titles at Finger Lakes.