Record Purses for Steeplechase Season

Steeplechase racing in the U.S. this year featured record total purses.

from the National Steeplechase Association

The 2008 National Steeplechase Association season, which came to a close Nov.29 with the inaugural Palm Beach race meet, set new highs in total and average purses.

Total purses reached a record $5,359,100, up $1,455 from last year, while the average purse of $27,483 topped the 2007 mark of $26,655. NSA purses topped the $5-million mark for the third time in the last four years.

“Overall, I was very happy with how the season went,” NSA director of racing Bill Gallo said. “Palm Beach was a great conclusion to a big year. We set an all-time purse record for the second year in a row, and reaching that plateau was very meaningful. It says we have a very bright future, and that’s something to be excited about.

“To me, the most rewarding part—and what I’m most happy with—is the racing product overall. We were able to give horsemen a few more opportunities as well as stretching the season out a little bit. It just goes to show that if you put races together in proper way and put on a good showing, the better off you will be.”

The NSA sanctioned 195 individual races in 2008, down six from 2007. The loss of the Little Everglades and Queens Cup meets in the spring, and the cancellation of three races at Shawan Downs in September due to heavy rain were compensated by the addition of new venues, as Kentucky Downs and the Palm Beach Steeplechase helped pick up the slack in the fall.

Steeplechasers returned to Kentucky Downs for the first time since 2000, taking part in the $500,000 Kentucky Cup Turf Festival. Two jump races offering $75,000 in purses were run Sept. 13, including the $50,000 Belle Meade Stakes.

“It was good to get back to Kentucky Downs after being away for so long, and that was another day where we put out a good product and the races went well,” Gallo said. “We have a good relationship with management, and we’re already booked to open their festival turf season next year on Sept. 12.”

Palm Beach reappeared on the NSA calendar after an even longer absence. The NSA circuit last ventured to the South Florida facility in 1985, when the meet opened the season with four races totaling $50,000 in purses. This year, Palm Beach closed out the calendar with five races worth $180,000.

Gallo said Palm Beach could hold a spring meet in 2009. Next year, the schedule will kick off at Aiken, S.C.,

Gallo and he and NSA chief executive Lou Raffetto hope to build on the success of 2008.

“Lou Raffetto and I have spent hours looking at attainable goals, including increasing racing opportunities,” Gallo said. “Though purses are very important, horsemen seem to be more concerned with opportunities than with purses. There’s a lot to look forward to in the future, from racetrack opportunities to potential for simulcast wagering. And even though the economy is difficult shape right now, these are attainable goals.

“We’ve already rekindled the idea of running a hunt meet at Monmouth Park, a return to Tanglewood in Winston-Salem, N.C., in May is also in the works, and Charleston in November is being discussed, though the date is not set in stone.”