OZONE PARK, N.Y. -- Horsemen and horseplayers alike should be getting a little help with their holiday bills when racing returns to Aqueduct on Wednesday following a nine-day break.
For horsemen, the much anticipated purse increase from revenue derived from the recently opened casino at Aqueduct goes from fantasy to reality beginning Wednesday. Total purse money for Wednesday's nine-race card is $390,000 -- led by a $65,000 open maiden race -- which is a 30.8 percent increase over what those same nine races would have been worth just 10 days ago.
Horseplayers who dabble in exotic wagers will be getting a 2 percent decrease in the takeout rate on trifectas, superfectas, pick threes, pick fours, the pick six, and the grand slam. This reduction comes after it was discovered that the New York Racing Association had for 15 months been overcharging bettors by 2 percentage points on those wagers. Part of NYRA's franchise agreement in 2008 was to increase takeout on those wagers by 1 percent for a two-year period, but when the provision expired in September 2010, NYRA failed to revert back to the previous takeout rates. This takeout reduction will be in place for 15 months.
It remains to be seen how the purse increase will affect the quality of racing in New York this winter and how takeout reduction will impact handle. In the case of the former, little is expected to change in the immediate future. First, there remains a dearth of quality horses throughout the country, and many that are usually based in the Northeast have left for warmer climes. There were 88 horses entered for Wednesday's card, only 74 for Thursday's nine-race program.
While NYRA hopes to have more horses on the grounds this winter than last, the majority will remain mid-to-low-level claimers and New York-breds. One positive sign, however, is that an open second-level allowance/optional claiming race carded for Thursday -- now worth $69,000 compared to $55,000 -- drew a field of nine.
While a takeout reduction is always welcome news to bettors, will some customers be turned off by NYRA's mistake and look to other tracks to wager?
Three New York-bred allowance races highlight Wednesday's program. The fifth is a second-level allowance/optional claimer for males going a mile and 70 yards. The $59,000 race drew a field of 10.
Pin Number, trained by Dominic Galluscio, tries a mile and 70 yards and two turns for the first time in his second start off a layoff. On May 15, in his second start off a layoff, Pin Number won a first-level allowance race stretching out to a mile from a poor result in a 6 1/2-furlong race in his previous start. On Dec. 8, Pin Number finished eight, beaten six lengths, in a six-furlong race over the inner track.
"I think he needed that race," said Galluscio, who got off to a sizzling 7-for-17 start to the inner track meet. "He's better a tad longer than that. He'll show speed going long."
There are others who are also likely to be forwardly placed, including The Noz, Southbeachsandy, and Artie Luvsto Party.
Good Karma and Stud Muffin, both in for the optional claiming price of $25,000, would benefit from a contentious pace.
The first race on the program is a first-level allowance race for New York-bred juvenile fillies led by Shot Gun Pennie, who won the Lady Finger Stakes at Finger Lakes in September, and the Chester and Mary Broman-owned entry of Bait and Beautiful But Blue.
The eighth, a first-level route for New York-breds going a mile, drew an overflow field of 14. Lunar Victory, a rare New York-bred from Juddmonte Farms, makes his second start off a layoff after finishing second last out at 7-5 odds.