A week after 57,729 spectators descended upon Belmont Park for the biggest racing day of the spring/summer meet, NYRA made it through just three races before dropping the curtain on its June 17 racing program.
The call to cancel was made following the running of the Dancin Renee Stakes, won in upset fashion by Dylan Davis aboard Wonderment at 9-1. In the day’s opening race, jockey Jose Ortiz was unseated from his mount Smart and Sassy – a first time starter for Bruce Levine – when the horse took a bad step around the turn.
As DRF’s David Grening reports, passing rain came through the area for approximately 90 minutes Saturday afternoon, soaking the track which had been left harrowed following morning training. With intermittent showers scheduled for the Belmont area throughout the weekend, the question remains why the track was left susceptible to such a downpour.
NYRA has routinely run races and managed full cards despite all manner of weather-related impediments at all three of their courses. What occurred Saturday was far from a monsoon. It was neither a flash flood one would experience at Saratoga, nor a show of lightning requiring a retreat to shelter.
It was an hour and a half of rain. No thunder, no lightning, not even a tornado warning. It was something NYRA has brushed away like a fly hundreds of times. Yet Saturday it ground the nine-race card to a screeching halt.
As horses were saddled in the paddock for the Dancin Renee, in what would be the final race of the day, the call was made to take the day’s remaining races off the turf. Five the the final six races of the day were scheduled for the turf, with main track only entrants long-since scratched and a Pick Six carryover of $194,809 up in the air.
While entrants for the fourth race circled the paddock and all precipitation had passed, the announcement came down that the remainder of the card would be cancelled. Perplexing to the few thousands in attendance, who believed the best part of their Saturday was yet to come.
No announcement of scratches for off-the-turf races 4,5,6,8, or 9 was ever announced, and the Pick Six carryover will now carry over to the Father’s Day card on Sunday. Because the cancellation was announced prior to the fifth race, rain checks for entry were issued to attendees and the early Pick-4 and Pick-5 were paid out with ALL/ALL in the final two legs.
It was later reported that the jockeys on site had expressed concern for their safety with regard to the condition of the course. Understandable, but preventable. Inclement weather did not cause the surface to become hazardous; lack of preparation for said weather did.
Even so, the lack of efficient communication between NYRA and its consumer base led to unnecessary confusion Saturday afternoon. If “hazardous conditions” were the cause of the cancellation, that should have been the reason given. Not “inclement weather” which had already passed.
A handful of jockeys in the New York colony, including John Velazquez and Javier Castellano, boarded a private plane Saturday afternoon to travel to Churchill Downs, where they competed in stakes races that night.
No one wants to see anyone get hurt at the track, whether they walk on two legs or four. Given the conditions of the course and an incident early in the day, cancellation was warranted, but it is worth examining why that came to be.
This was not a monsoon that washed away the course. This was a mistake in preparation of the track and an oversight of available weather reports. It is not an “aw shucks, this stuff happens” moment. It was an embarrassment for one of the premier racing organizations and facilities in the world, as they were caught off guard by a rainstorm.