Six horses entered the Messenger Stakes while four horses entered the Lady Maud for next week at Yonkers. Contrary to what some people would think, it is not really an aversion to the half mile oval which is causing this. The problem is the fees for these races.
Assuming all horses nominate on time, and skip the supplemental route, the nomination fee for the Messenger (and the Lady Maud) is a reasonable $25. There is a 2yo sustaining fee of $600 ($300 for fillies); still no problem. On February 15th of their 3yo season, the sustaining fee is $2,000 ($1,000); now starting to get expensive, but still reasonable.
Now comes the problem. $10,000 ($5,000) is due when you declare to start which is a week ahead of time, in the event eliminations are necessary. Then, if you qualify for the final, there is another $10,000 ($5,000) due (even if you scratch out). Hence, to make it to the eliminations, it costs a horse $12,625 (filly - $6,325) to start and if you are lucky to qualify for the final, add another $10,000 to the colts and geldings and $5,000 for the fillies to start. That is a lot of money, especially when the added money is 20% of all fees collected by Yonkers for the race.
Now, let's compare this to another Triple Crown event; the Cane Pace. It too has a $25 nominating fee and a $400 ($200) two year old payment. As a three year old, on February 15, the fee is $800 ($400) and the entrance fee of $5,000 ($2,000) to start in the eliminations (or final if no eliminations)l no additional fees. As a result, the total fee for a colt or gelding to start in the Cane Pace is $5,825 for the boys and $2,625 for the fillies. The added money for the Cane Pace is $150,000 for the boys and only $15,000 for the fillies (a little stingy).
So lets compare the two stakes races for colts and fillies:
Race Total Fees Colts Total Fees Fillies Added Money
Messenger/Lady Maud $22,625 $11,325 20% of all payments
Cane Pace/Shady Daisy $5,825 $2,625 $150,000 Open - $15,000 Fillies
If you are a horse owner and you had to choose a race to go with, which one will you enter? Odds are you are going to the Cane Pace; it has a low entry fee and a large amount of added money; while the fillies added money is not that much, it is still worth entering considering the amount of money you put up to race in it. The Yonkers stakes (and the Messenger is an example) is very expensive to enter and the added money is not that much.
What Yonkers needs to do is go to their horsemen and get more money allocated to stakes races and/or lower their entry fees to correspond to what the added money is. If they don't, they may as well sell the stakes to other tracks willing to make the races worthwhile. Failure to do this will result in Yonkers continuing to have stakes races with few horses in to go and run the risk of having to make them non-wagering events.