NYRA announces purse increases for remainder of Belmont fall meet, upcoming Aqueduct meets

Posted: Oct. 15, 2020

The New York Racing Association Oct. 14 announced that purse increases will take effect across a number of conditions beginning Oct. 18 and continuing through the remainder of the Belmont Park fall meet. In addition, the increases will carry over through the winter and spring meets at Aqueduct Racetrack.

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,” NYRA Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Martin Panza said. “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.

“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 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. For example, the owner of the winner of an open maiden special weight will be entitled to the 55% winner’s share ($4,675) of the $17,000 purse increase for that condition. The retroactive adjustments are applicable to qualifying races starting on Sept. 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,” Appelbaum said. “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 reopened without spectators in attendance 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 with $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 revenue generated by casinos located in downstate New York, most notably at Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct Racetrack. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, all casinos in New York were closed March 16. The phased reopening of the New York state economy authorized casinos to reopen to the public at 25% capacity Sept. 9.

As for Aqueduct, the 56-day winter meet begins Dec. 10 and runs through March 28. Live racing generally will be conducted on a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule until the end of February with a holiday break Dec. 24-7 and the addition of special Monday cards on Jan. 18 for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Feb. 15 for Presidents’ Day. Live racing in March will be offered Fridays through Sundays through the end of the meet.

Throughout the 2020-21 Aqueduct winter meet, the trainer of any horse who finishes fourth through last in a race will receive a $300 credit toward an insurance escrow account in the trainer’s name with the horseman’s bookkeeper. The horse must be an official starter and finish the race.

The money can only be used to make New York Jockey Injury Compensation Fund payments. The funds cannot be withdrawn by trainers. Money not used by the end of 2021 will refund to the purse account.

The 11-day Aqueduct spring meet in 2021 will run from April 1-18 with live racing returning to a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule.