Whew! That was close.
We have been reading and hearing from the media for some time now that there was a good possibility that NYRA racing would cease and desist come New Year's Day.
Comes word today that the various agencies have struck a deal to allow the three New York tracks to continue racing into 2008, and no doubt for years to come.
This should come as no surprise to readers of this space.
Surely the reader will recall that, back in September, it was written in this space that there was "zero chance" that NYRA would shut down on January 1.
And the reason, we pointed out, was a simple one.
Hal Handel, who had been running Philadelphia Park, had just signed on at NYRA as the CEO. And knowing Hal Handel as well as I do from the Jersey beat, and knowing that he is the single smartest executive in racing, it was obvious that he would not be jumping onto a burning ship.
Now hopefully, the politicians will get it right, and NYRA racing will prosper for all eternity.
One thing I do know.
New York racing reached rock bottom last Saturday.
On a day in which there was no big-time football competition on TV, and the biggest sports event on the tube was the Oklahoma-Arkansas basketball game, NYRA presented as its Aqueduct feature the Ladies Handicap, an ungraded 10-furlong stake for fillies and mares.
The Ladies Handicap years back was one of the more compelling races on the Aqueduct Fall calendar. The purse reached as high as $200,000, and the race attracted the best distaffers in training.
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Now fast forward to 2007.
The purse for the Ladies was $79,550, and Tap Gold, a mare who hadn't won a race in a year, was the highweight - at all of 117 pounds. Moreover, only three pounds separated the entire field, and, after a late scratch, only six went to the post.
Then it got worse.
Tap Gold was jumping up and down in the gate, and was rearing on her back legs when the bell rang.
She broke 10 lengths behind the field...and was eliminated!
We are talking the highweight in a six-horse field in the Saturday feature.
Then, on the final turn, Bondage broke down in her left front ankle...and three days later we learned that she was tragically euthanized on site.
Incidentally, race-winner Wow Me Free ($9.10) earned a paltry 87 Beyer number.
That was the eighth race.
In the ninth-race, a maiden-claimer, a horse named Bailsby who had not so much as hit the board in his life, wired the finale by four lengths at $48 to ensure a $161,000 Pick Six carryover into Sunday.
But wait a minute.
Up came a graphic on the NYRA signal that there would be no live racing on Sunday because of predictions of a major snowstorm. The message came and went so fast that I wasn't sure I was seeing right.
Sure enough. When I checked my e-mail, I found a Ladies recap from NYRA...but nothing about a cancellation.
Got lost in the mail I guess. Because as we do know the Sunday card was indeed cancelled (although of course simulcasting was not affected).
So now players will have to wait until Dec. 26 to chase that 161K, which no doubt is accruing interest in the bank.
So what's 10 days between friends?
Of course, there was no snowstorm on Sunday...but who's counting?
And, of course, the Sunday racing program at Philadelphia Park down the Turnpike went off without a hitch under identical weather conditions.
But that was only one weekend...
Otherwise, the biggest news in racing is the lead-up to the announcement of the Eclipse Awards in late January.
But hold it a minute.
Virtually every Eclipse Award was wrapped up like your favorite holiday gift back in late October at the Breeders' Cup at Monmouth Park.
Just check it out -
2-year-old male: War Pass
2-year-old female: Indian Blessing
3-year-old male: Curlin
3-year-old female: Rags to Riches
Older male: Lawyer Ron
Older female: Ginger Punch
Male Sprinter: Midnight Lute
Female sprinter: Mayfield
Male turfer: English Channel
Female turfer: Lahudood
Horse of the Year: Curlin
The human winners are equally obvious.
Garrett Gomez will be Eclipse jockey. Todd Pletcher will be Eclipse trainer for the fourth straight year, and Joe Talamo will be Eclipse apprentice.
Not a whole lot to get excited about. In fact the Eclipses are so cut and dried that DRF devoted valuable space the other day to the subject of who will finish second and third in the various categories.
I'm not sure I am going out on a limb here...but don't be shocked if War Pass and Indian Blessing are trivia answers by next summer.
Finally, Presious Passion made history last Saturday when he became the first horse to complete a Cliff Hanger-McKnight double...and at $136.20 no less.
Kudos to hard-working mary Hartmann Mary Hartmann for the biggest victory of her training career.
In this space last Friday, we pointed out that Elvis is still very much in the building. And is he ever? Not only did Elvis get the money on Presious Passion, he won two other legs of the Calder Stakes Pick Four on Paradise Dancer ($4.20) and Electrify ($7.40).
You're going to have only one more week to get down on the red-hot Asmusson-Elliott combo in New York.
Shortly after the First, Elliott will head for Oaklawn Park, where he will sit second behind jockey Quinonez on the Asmussen armada.
Speaking of Super Steve, if he doesn't get Eclipse trainer this year for Curlin, when will he ever get one?
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