By Bill Finley
With impressive gains in handle and with the reopening of the casino at Aqueduct, NYRA will increase purses starting Oct. 18 and for the remainder of the Belmont meet. Like many tracks, NYRA was forced to make purse cuts due to COVID-19 related problems that reduced revenue sources.
Rather than an across-the-board purse increase, NYRA will put more money into certain categories, in particular maiden races. The purse for an open maiden special weight race will go from $63,000 to $80,000. New York-bred maidens will see a purse increase from $52,000 to $70,000. Other purse increases include a $4,000 bump for open $25,000 claimers and a $3,000 increase for $40,000 maiden claimers. For the complete list, click here.
In addition to the purse increases beginning Oct. 18, a retroactive purse payment for the first 16 days of the 27-day Belmont fall meet will be issued for 50% of the proposed purse increase.
“It's wonderful to see the purses at Belmont going up,” said New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association President Joe Appelbaum. “It demonstrates the popularity and resilience of our racing product and our horsemen will appreciate the return to more normal purse levels. Fingers crossed, we are all learning to manage cash-flow through COVID-19 and this is a testament to the clear-eyed planning of the spring and summer.”
No area of the NYRA racing program has been hit harder than the stakes schedule. Wanting to keep overnight purses as high as possible, NYRA chose to free up money by making deep cuts in stakes purses. Examples include last Saturday's GI Jockey Club Gold Cup, which was worth $250,000 after being a $750,000 race in 2019. The GI Champagne S., also run Saturday, was also a $250,000 race. It had a $500,000 purse last year.
NYRA Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Martin Panza was hopeful that stakes purses would soon be on the rise.
“We will start with the Aqueduct winter stakes schedule and that will lead us into 2021,” Panza said. “I would imagine that in 2021, as long as the casino is still open, you will see a lot of the stakes purses go back to where they were at or close to where they were at.”
NYRA's problems began when live racing was suspended Mar. 19. Though Belmont was eventually given the green light to open and resumed racing June 3, NYRA lost a huge revenue source when the Resort's World Casino at Aqueduct was closed Mar. 16. Revenues from the casino account for 38% of the total amount available for purses. The casino reopened Sept. 9.
Despite the pandemic and fans not being allowed at the track, the handle on NYRA's races since Belmont reopened in June has, for the most part, exceeded 2019 numbers.
During the Belmont spring/summer meet, which had 23 fewer dates than in 2019, the total all sources handle was $386,654,955 for an average of $15,466,198 per day. That represented a 42% increase when compared to the corresponding meet last year.
The 2020 Saratoga meet, held without fans and, therefore, without the benefit of on-track wagering, handled $702,535,468, down slightly from the $705,343,949 wagered last year.
Through the first 16 days of the Belmont fall meet handle this year has been $164,993,286, which is a 38% increase over the first 16 days in 2019 when the meet started 12 days earlier.
NYRA had a huge day Saturday when $19,534,831 was bet on the Jockey Club Gold Cup day card. It was the highest one day handle figure for a fall race date at Belmont since 2014. On the same day, Keeneland handled $12.6 million and Santa Anita handled $5.7 million.