By Bill Finley
The GI Runhappy Travers S, normally run on the next-to-last weekend of the Saratoga meet, has been moved up to Aug. 8. The shift of the Travers date was one of a handful of changes made to the 2020 Saratoga stakes schedule, which was released Friday by the New York Racing Association.
Had the Travers stayed in its normal slot on the calendar, it would have been run Aug. 29, just one week before the repositioned GI Kentucky Derby. With the race having been moved back three weeks, it sets up nicely as a prep for the Derby and will be worth 170 Derby qualifying points. NYRA did not change the distance of the Travers, keeping it at a mile and a quarter.
While moving the Travers will keep it from conflicting with the Derby, the new date puts the race in competition with the GI Haskell Invitational and the GII Blue Grass S. With the Haskell set for July 18 and the Blue Grass scheduled for July 11, there will be three major races for 3-year-olds within a four-week period.
The Saratoga meet, which, as of Friday, was slated to be held without fans allowed into the track, will run from July 16 through Sept. 7. There will be 71 stakes worth $14.45 million and there will be at least one stakes on every day of the meet. There will be 39 graded stakes, including 18 Grade I events.
“We’re thrilled to be racing at Saratoga this summer, and we thank Governor Andrew Cuomo for his support and the support of horsemen who have worked with us to navigate the many challenges,” NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke said. “While this will be anything but a traditional Saratoga season, we hope to provide a semblance of normalcy for both the local community as well as racing fans across the country.”
With the casino at Aqueduct still closed and with the revenue streams that come from having fans in attendance having been cut off, NYRA has had to make cuts to the stakes schedule. Casino funds account for 35 to 40 percent of the purses at the NYRA tracks. The purses for several stakes at Belmont were cut and that will again be the case at Saratoga.
In 2019, NYRA ran 76 stakes at Saratoga, worth a total of $20.85 million–or $6.4 million more than what will be given away this year. The Travers purse has been reduced from $1.25 million to $1 million. Other notable cuts include GI Coaching Club American Oaks ($500,000 to $350,000); GI Forego S. ($600,000 to $300,000) GI Sword Dancer S. ($850,000 to $500,000); GI Test S. ($500,000 to $300,000); GI Whitney S. ($1 million to $750,000) and the GI Woodward S. ($750,000 to $500,000).
By cutting stakes purses, NYRA will be able to keep purses for overnight races comparable to 2019 levels.
An addition to the stakes schedule will be the GIII Peter Pan S., normally run at Belmont. It will be contested on July 16, opening day, and serve as a prep for the Travers. The GII Jim Dandy S., a traditional prep for the Travers, has been moved to Sept. 5, closing weekend.
There will be at least one Grade I race on every Saturday card during the meet.
Three of the biggest days of the meet will be Aug. 1, Aug. 8 and Aug. 29. The Aug. 1 card includes the Whitney, the GI Personal Ensign S., the GI Allen Jerkens Memorial and the GII Bowling Green S. The Aug. 8 card will include not only the Travers but the GI Ballerina H., the Test, the GII Troy S. and the GIII Waya S. The GI Sword Dancer S. and the Forego top an Aug. 29 card that also includes the GII Amsterdam and the GIII Saranac.
New to the Saratoga stakes schedule are a pair of New York-bred races for older grass horses with the Lubash set for July 22 and the Dayatthespa for fillies and mares July 29, both offering a purse of $85,000 for the 1 1/16-mile turf tests.