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Monday, February 9, 2015

Lots Of Changes In The 2015 Stakes Schedule

There are some important changes in the 2015 stakes schedule, as racetracks embrace the mega program model and move away from carding isolated stakes races. Perhaps the most significant change is the return, after a one-year hiatus, of what came to be known as “Super Sunday” when it was held at Harrah’s Philadelphia. The Battle Of Brandywine, Colonial Trot, and the Valley Forge for sophomore pacing fillies, which were an essential mid-August component of the calendar, return to Pocono Downs on Saturday, August 22. Last year Northfield took advantage of the gap created by their absence by carding the $400,000 Carl Milstein Memorial on the same weekend. The race was a big success as All Bets Off beat Luck Be Withyou and McWicked. It will be great to have the Battle, which has been a fixture since 1960 and the Colonial, since 1968, back in play. And the Milstein will be held a week earlier than last year, on Friday, August 14. The Dan Patch, which sees a $50,000 bump to $300,000, and will be raced as an early closer, will also be raced on August 14.

The Whata Baron and Artistic Vision, both for three and up pacers, will be carded at the Meadowlands on May 2, two weeks later than last year. That same day the Lady Suffolk, which has been raced on Fridays, joins the Dexter Cup on Freehold’s Saturday card. And the following day, Sunday, May 3, the Miami Valley Distaff Trot and Pace will be raced. Last year Shebestingin won the pace, named for Sam ‘Chip’ Noble, while Maven won the trot—both in track record time. The purse for each has been doubled to $100,000 this year.

The first TVG pacing series leg has been dropped back a week to Saturday, May 7. Last year it was a stand-alone race, but in 2015 it will be paired with the Cutler, which serves as the first TVG trotting leg.

 The Graduate series for four-year-old trotters and pacers will kick off at Tioga Downs on Memorial Day with a $50,000 leg for each gait. Subsequently four legs, carrying $75,000 and $100,000 purses, will be raced at the Meadowlands in June. Actually, even before Memorial Day, the latter group will be able to get going on May 17, when Flamboro offers the reconstituted Confederation Cup for four-year-old pacers. That one carries $200,000 in purse money. So, when you add in the $250,000 Graduate finals on July 3 and July 11, plus the $200,000 Prix d’Ete for four-year-old pacers on August 23, there will be plenty of opportunities for those crossing the bridge to the aged class.
On Sunday, May 24, Harrah’s Philadelphia is offering the inaugural $150,000 Jerry Taylor Open pace, named for Howard Taylor’s father. Harrah’s will also card the Maxie Lee and Betsy Ross that day.

The SBSW and North America Cup will both be a week later in 2015. The former will offer richer splits as the purse has jumped $75,000 to $225,000. Last year David Menary had to decide whether to start He’s Watching in the SBSW or the Rooney, as they were on the same day. This year the Rooney, and companion Lismore, will be raced a week before the SBSW.

Last year WEG shuffled their stakes lineup so as to add strength to Cup night; finals for the Roses Are Red, Armbro Flight and Fan Hanover were all held that day. This year the finals for those three have been moved to the following week, June 20, and the eliminations for those stakes will be relied on to make the Cup program compelling. The Mohawk Gold Cup, in which upset winner Evenin Of Pleasure paid $164.30 last year, will also be raced on June 20.

The Battle Of Lake Erie has been dropped back five weeks to June 12. That’s the day before the elimination round for the NA Cup. Last year the Battle was sandwiched between the Haughton and the USPC. This year two legs of the Graduate series bookend it.

The Roll With Joe has leaped ahead almost two months to Sunday August 23—the same day as the Prix d’Ete. The purse lost $25,000 during the move; the Joe now goes for $175,000. Eliminations for the Canadian Pacing Derby are six days later.

The $450,000 Hambletonian Maturity moves ahead two weeks on the schedule in 2015. Last year it was by itself, but in 2015 it joins the Stanley Dancer, Del Miller and Miss Versatility on July 18.
The Hambletonian falls one week later this year, on August 8. The Oaks, Peter Haughton, Merrie Annabelle and Cashman are back, but instead of the Ima Lula for four-year-old trotting mares, the inaugural $200,000 Fresh Yankee for three and up mares joins the ticket. Opportunities for this class are scarce, so this is a plus move on the part of the Meadowlands. The Ima Lula will be raced on the previous Saturday. And the Cane Pace, which has been raced at Tioga the last three years, will be moved back two weeks and slotted into the Hambletonian Day program.

The Yonkers Trot was pushed ahead three months to October 25 last year, but in 2015 the Yonkers Trot and the Messenger head back to Saturday, September 5. The Lady Maud and Hudson Filly Trot will now be raced the previous week. Last year the Messenger and Yonkers Trot butted heads with the Fall Four at Woodbine; this year they take on the Canadian Pacing Derby, Metro, She’s A Great Lady and Simcoe.

The Maple Leaf Trot, in which Intimidate upset Sebastian K, jumps ahead almost two months to September 19, where it joins the Canadian Trotting Classic, Elegantimage, Wellwood and Peaceful Way. This sets up a situation where the Chip Noble Memorial Trot at Scioto Downs, the Maple Leaf, the Centaur at Hoosier Park and the Dayton Trotting Derby will be raced on successive weeks. The latter, like the Distaff stakes at Miami Valley, benefits from Ohio’s infusion of slots money; the purse has jumped $50,000 to $150.000.

The Breeders Crown moves back a month to October 24 at Woodbine, with the Erskine, in which E L Titan upset Father Patrick, going six days later.

The Fall Four move up a month to November 21 and 22 at the Meadowlands. The Governor’s Cup, Valley Victory, Three Diamonds and Goldsmith Maid will be augmented by the Tarport Hap, which has been out of the rotation since See You At Peelers won in 2011, and the Continentalvictory, a new race for three-year-old trotting fillies. The TVG finals will be raced one week earlier than last year.

Joe FitzGerald

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