ELMONT, N.Y. (NYRA) — The New York Racing Association announced Wednesday that purse increases will take effect across a number of conditions beginning Sunday, October 18, and continuing through the remainder of the Belmont Park fall meet.
Notable among the significant purse increases is the open maiden special weight category increasing from $63,000 to $80,000 and the New York-bred maiden special weight category increasing from $52,000 to $70,000.
Purses for open claiming and maiden claiming races at NYRA are the highest in the country, providing opportunities for horsemen at all levels. The open $25,000 claiming category will see a $4,000 increase to $50,000, while the $40,000 maiden-claiming condition will now offer a purse of $43,000.
“The myriad impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic—including the suspension of live racing and the closure of casinos across New York—forced NYRA to make significant adjustments to the purse structure to ensure operational continuity throughout the spring, summer and early part of the fall,” said NYRA Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Martin Panza.
“NYRA made those strategic decisions early in the crisis so that we could restore our purses to near pre-pandemic levels as soon as possible to support New York’s horsemen and the 19,000 jobs connected to thoroughbred racing in New York,” Panza continued. “Thanks to the incredibly strong wagering seen at Saratoga and into Belmont fall, coupled with the resumption of VLT revenues in early September, we are at this point even faster than expected. NYRA would like to thank Joe Appelbaum and the membership of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association for their hard work and collaboration in securing these increases.”
In addition to the purse increases beginning October 18, a retroactive purse payment for the first 16 days of the 27-day Belmont fall meet will be issued for 50 percent of the proposed purse increase. For example, the owner of the winner of an open maiden special weight will be entitled to the 55 percent winner’s share [$4,675] of the $17,000 purse increase for that condition. The retroactive adjustments are applied to qualifying races starting on September 18.
New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association President Joe Appelbaum expressed strong support for the NYRA’s enhanced purse structure.
“It’s wonderful to see the purses at Belmont going up,” said 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.”
Pari-mutuel wagering funds the majority of the NYRA purse account, which is awarded to horsemen and, in turn, benefits hundreds of small businesses operating at NYRA tracks and others dependent on the thoroughbred racing industry.
Following the March 19 suspension of live racing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Belmont Park re-opened without spectators in attendance on June 3 for an abbreviated 25-day spring/summer meet. Despite running 23 fewer days than in 2019, a 48% decrease, all-sources handle during the spring/summer meet totaled $386,654,955. The spring/summer meet generated $15,466,198 in average daily handle from all sources, a 42% increase over the 2019 spring/summer meet.
With significant COVID-19 health and safety protocols in place, including mandatory testing of all employees and on-track personnel, NYRA made the decision to conduct the 2020 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course as originally intended, albeit without spectators in attendance.
All-sources handle for the 2020 summer meet totaled $702,535,468 compared to $705,343,949 wagered from all sources on Saratoga in 2019.
In addition to pari-mutuel wagering, the remainder of the NYRA purse account is funded through VLT revenues generated by casinos located in downstate New York, most notably at Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, all casinos in New York were closed on March 16. The phased re-opening of the New York state economy authorized casinos to re-open to the public at 25 percent capacity on September 9. Live racing resumes at Belmont Park on Friday, October 16 with a 10-race card and first post of 12:20 p.m.