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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nominees to Tioga & Vernon Downs Stakes Increase

With the March 15 payments taken and tallied, several of the marquee events scheduled for the 2011 Tioga & Vernon season have realized substantial increases.

The popular Free For All early closers are up slightly and have again captured the best and most recognizable equine personalities harness racing has to offer. The anticipation of the excitement created by the enduring stars of the sport speaks directly to the importance of their continued participation on the racetrack.

In last season’s inaugural Bettor’s Delight Open Pace, Hypnotic Blue Chip, Won The West and Foiled Again chased the now retired Shark Gesture to the wire in an overall Tioga track record of 1:48.3. Those three will find some extremely talented opposition awaiting them in their quest to capture this year’s trophy.

Dreamfair Eternal is slated to defend her 2010 Artiscape tiara (resulting in a divisional standard of 1:49.4) against a deep representation of the finest older pacing mares in the game. Both of these important races, each with an estimated purse of $200,000, will go at Tioga on Sunday, June 12.

The Miss Versatility for trotting mares has a leg at each track and Buck I St Pat will attempt to recapture the crown that Autumn Escapade wrestled away in 2010. The diagonal divas will make another appearance at Vernon Downs on September 2nd for the newly christened $200,000E Muscle Hill. On that same evening, The Credit Winner Open Trot (also estimated at $200,000) will feature last year’s winner Lucky Jim defending his title against reigning Older Trotter of the Year Enough Talk and 2010 3YO Breeders Crown winner Break The Bank K, among a number of formidable foes.

The numbers for the 2011 Empire Breeders Classic (EBC) for New York sired sophomores are up substantially over last season. That group of races will reward the connections of the participants with well in excess of $1 million in purses over Memorial Day weekend.

The Kindergarten Trotting Classics launched Breeders Crown winner Manofmanymissions’ career last year and those races are up 30‐40% in nominations going into this season. The Red Mile will host two Kindergarten legs in September with the finals to be raced at Vernon in late October.

Tioga & Vernon are proud to host the prestigious Historic stakes for the first time in 2011. The 3YO Historic events will be raced at Tioga in late June/early July and the 2YO races will go over Vernon’s 7/8’s mile oval on September 2nd.

The John F. Simpson Memorial stakes return to Tioga & Vernon in 2011 with the 3YO nominees up 74% over last year’s numbers.

The Tompkins‐Geers stakes have enjoyed a renaissance at Tioga since landing there in 2006 and will again offer a mid summer treat to the racing fans of Nichols, NY.

“It is very gratifying to see such an enthusiastic response to our stakes program. We wish to convey our appreciation to the faithful sponsors of these events; The Agriculture & New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund & New York Stallion Owners (EBC), Allerage Farms (Miss Versatility), Blue Chip Farm (Credit Winner & Bettor’s Delight), Brittany Farm (Artiscape), and the Muscle Hill Syndicate (Muscle Hill Mare Trot), and Hanover Shoe Farm’s Jim Simpson (John F. Simpson Memorial)," from Tioga/Vernon Racing VP Jason Settlemoir.

Nomination information will be posted on the Tioga & Vernon web sites soon. [Tioga/Vernon Downs]

No doubt the uncertainty at the Meadowlands has helped make some of these races like the Simpson Memorial increase in nomination size possible; after all how else do you explain a 74% increase in nominations?  Clearly, what has been a second string stakes event will be seeing some top horses competing this year.

But it goes past that.  Jeff Gural and his team at Tioga and Vernon Downs have been working on bring the best racing possible to their Southern Tier and Central New York tracks by putting together a strong stakes program; a program which rivals virtually any other harness track in the United States.  Yes, these are racinos, but how many other racinos are putting on stakes programs like this?  Perhaps they have their one or two signature races, but there are plenty of stakes opportunities at Tioga and Vernon; and you don't even need to be a NYSS-eligible horse to participate. With the exception of the Empire Breeders Classic, the races in the press release are unrestricted.

Unfortunately, there are not those many tacks willing to support a stakes program like this and that is a shame.  Stakes programs like Tioga and Vernon Downs would help mitigate some of the negative downside which would occur should the Meadowlands shut down.  It would also allow race fans to actually have a reason to come out to the track; to see some of the stars of racing at the local raceways instead of sitting in front of their computer.

As much as the Meadowlands brought harness racing much attention in the track's glory days, it was not without its costs.  In some ways, I think harness racing would have been better off without the Meadowlands ever being built, but to go into this now while the fate of the track is in question would be inappropriate as well as be ancient history.  Let me just say for now, having the best horses sequestered at the Meadowlands from May through early August is not in the long term interest of racing.

Don't think for one minute that I don't believe the closing of the Meadowlands would be a huge blow to the sport.  While it may have been better if it was never built, it was and has changed the face of the game forever.  It will be very hard to put the genie back in the bottle.