Once upon a time, the races which make up the Historic Stakes were important races on the race calendar. When at Goshen's Historic Track, these races drew the best of the major stables on the Grand Circuit.
With the death of E. Rolland Harriman, the races moved to the Meadowlands where their stature remained high as part of Historic Week, the first week of the Grand Circuit stand at the Meadowlands, meant to preserve these stakes races due to their historical importance. Initially, this was the case. When at the Meadowlands, these races were contested allowing three year olds to get ready for the big races ahead and allow the two year olds to make their debut. All the major stables continued to send their star pupils to race in these races, continuing their great tradition.
Then the sport has changed. With the advent of racinos, money started getting thrown around and these races have became less important as trainers started to cherry pick their starts; even at the Meadowlands the races started losing their luster with declining interest. After all, why race for relatively small purses when you can race for six or even seven-figure purses?
So the race has been sent on the road and now resides in upstate New York with the three year old races being contested at Tioga Downs this weekend with the two year old events being contested later in the season. This move has not improved the number of starters which make sustaining payments and are willing to pay the starting fee. As you can see:
· There were 23 horses eligible to the $59,300 Historic-Dickerson Cup (3yo c&g trot) which includes one supplemental entry with 5 declared to start.
· There were 22 horses eligible to the $57,300 Coaching Club Trotting Oaks (3yo filly trot) with 5 declared,
· There were 17 horses eligible to the $52,800 Jersey Cup (3yo colt pace) with 4 declared.
· There were 29 horses eligible for the $65,900 Ladyship Stake (3yo filly pace) including one supplemental entry with 7 declared.
Now certainly, being contested on the same weekend as the North America Cup and other big three year old events at Mohawk doesn't help, but where are the other horses who are not competing in Canada this weekend? They certainly aren't heading to Nichols, New York. The Historic Stakes are beginning irrelevant.
The time has come for the Hambletonian Society to rethink the future of these stakes races. To continue on as races which wouldn't even get carded on a wagering program if not for the fact it is hard to fill a complete race card cheapens the legacy of these races. One can certainly argue these races should be dropped, allowing them to become part of racing's history where their significance may be remembered.
The other option is to refocus these races; placing these races where they would become the highlights of racing meets and draw substantial interest. While they may no longer be the races they once were, they could become important races in the local stakes scene. One possibility would be to send the races to Pompano Park where the three year old events could be conducted at the end of spring meet before the horses head north for the summer and the two year old events could be contested when the horses converge on Florida for the fall meet but the best option would be to send the race west.
The best place would be in one of the Diamond Horses Alliance (DHA) states; California, Iowa, Wisconsin, or Minnesota; states off the beaten path for harness racing. Assuming a pari-mutuel track is the only one able to support the races, it means contesting the races at Cal-Expo or Running Aces Harness Park. By putting the stakes races in the DHA states, you will be providing horsemen stakes races which would truly be the highlight of their racing season; something to aim for especially when there is a dearth of open stakes races in these states. For horsemen in these states, the Historic Series would be their Meadowlands Pace, Hambletonian, Governors Cup, Haughton Memorial. If one track is unable to come up with the added money, let each state from their purse account(s) contribute to the added money with the race rotate within the four states. A side benefit would be the possibility of growth of these four states’ breeding programs.
No, the Historic Stakes would not be the stakes they once were but at least they would be important races to horsemen restoring some shine to these sullied races.