A New Year brings continued optimism for New York racing
by Bob Ehalt
2018 a banner year for the NY-bred program
There's no other day in the horse racing industry that generates as much optimism and excitement as New Year's Day.
For each year, when the calendar turns to January, thoroughbreds turn a year older and visions of what awaits them in the coming months are filled with sunshine and clear skies.
It's a time when promising 2-year-olds become 3 and talk of the Triple Crown becomes rampant, or when the sport's babies turn into prized yearlings who begin to give off glimpses of what awaits them down the road at racetracks across the country.
As a vibrant part of the horse racing community, the New York State breeding program holds a high level of anticipation about the 2019's arrival. Yet, there will always be a fondness for the unparalleled success of 2018, especially at New York Racing Association (NYRA) tracks.
"It's a very optimistic outlook," said John Grau, farm manager at Sunnyfield Farm in Bedford, New York. "New York-breds are doing quite well at sales all around the country. The stigma of many years ago when New York-breds were not in favor has changed and people know New York State can produce a quality animal, which, with the purse money at Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga plus the state-bred incentives and programs like NYRA's Starter Loyalty Program, can run for money superior to any other program in the country."
Sunnyfield Farm played a significant role in the banner year for New York-breds by selling a yearling out of the famed American Pharoah for $1 million to owner M.V. Magnier for an intended racing career with Bob Baffert, who trained the 2015 Triple Crown champion.
The purchase came at Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga Sale for select yearlings, which was followed about a week later by the company's sale for New York State-bred yearlings that saw the average price rise by 20.7 percent from 2017 to a record $107,512.
"There are many reasons to be optimistic. Year over year for the last decade the New York State-bred program has grown in every key performance indicator," said Jeff Cannizzo, Executive Director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders. "Our horses have routinely performed in more open company races and are winning graded stakes around the world. We have a mare population that is evolving for the better based on quality and our family lines have improved year after year. The commercial marketplace could not be stronger for New York-breds in every sale."
New York-breds enjoyed tremendous racing success in 2018, topped by multiple Grade 1 winners Diversify and Mind Your Biscuits, who were both among the top 10 horses in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) poll for much of the year. Among their 2018 heroics, Mind Your Biscuits won the Grade 1 $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen for a second consecutive year and Diversify captured the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont Park.
The duo also played starring roles in the Whitney, the premier race for older horses at Saratoga. The New York -breds finished 1-2 in the prestigious Grade 1 stakes as Diversify beat Mind Your Biscuits by 3 ½ lengths in a race that was delayed for about 40 minutes by lightning and a hellacious rain storm.
The Whitney was a fitting stage for the state-breds as 1 1/8-mile contest was the scene of the first major stakes win by a New York -bred, when Fio Rito beat Rokeby Stable's Winter Tale in the 1981 edition.
Diversify, a Bellamy Road gelding who won the 2017 Jockey Club Gold Cup, was trained by Rick Violette, the respected longtime leader of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association who passed away on October 21.
Mind Your Biscuits, who earned a record $4,279,566, was retired after finishing 11th in the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic. The Posse colt will begin a new career as a stallion in Japan in 2019.
Other highlights for New York-breds came from Audible, who won the Grade 1 Florida Derby and was third in the Kentucky Derby, Fourstar Crook, who won the Grade 1 Flower Bowl at Belmont Park, and Voodoo Song, who triumphed in the Grade 1 Fourstardave at Saratoga.
"It's been a remarkable year," Cannizzo said. "This might arguably be one of the best years for the New York-bred program based on our success on the racetrack. That's what we're striving for here, to prove New York-breds can be a national powerhouse.
"It's done through racing and when you have horses like Mind Your Biscuits, Audible, Fourstar Crook, Voodoo Song, Diversify, Disco Partner and the list goes on and on," continued Cannizzo. "Horses are running in graded stakes on every Saturday across the country. When you win the Florida Derby, Dubai Golden Shaheen, Jaipur, Suburban, Whitney, Fourstardave, and the Flower Bowl it shows the, no pun intended, diversity of the program. It was a special year."
And now it's time for a new year, one filled with the kind of mystery and anticipation that makes January 1 such a special day.
"The Whitney was a shot in the arm. It showed once again how New York-breds can run with the big boys. They always have. It's a quality program. The people in this state know what they are doing and our horses can compete on a national level. It was an exciting year for the program and we're only going to go forward full steam ahead," Grau said. "I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings."