OZONE PARK, N.Y. — The New York Racing Association has tinkered with its schedule for the month of March the last several winters trying to deal with what it says is a “brutal” month when it comes to field size.
This year, NYRA has scheduled just three days of racing per week at Aqueduct for the balance of March. The three-day schedule was supposed to start next week, but it actually began this week when high winds forced the cancellation of Thursday’s card.
Average field size at Aqueduct has dipped below seven horses per race in March in two of the last three years — it was 6.89 in 2016. In 2015, average field size was 7.92 in March, but there had been 13 full-card cancellations in January and February.
“It’s too early to bring in 2-year-olds, and no one’s come back from Florida,” said Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior vice president of racing operations. “Everybody’s worn out. We’ve been running the same horses for the last four months. We have the stats; the last 10 years, the month of March is brutal.”
In 2014, when there was racing five days a week in March, average field size was 6.84. In 2015, racing was conducted four days a week in March, but there was a nine-day break scheduled. Three days were added to the schedule, and average field size was 7.92 following the 13 cancellations in the two previous months. In 2016, again with a four-day schedule, there was an average of 6.89 starters per race.
Panza said that NYRA would add more days if entries warranted. But the racing office has struggled to fill eight races per card many times this winter.
Rick Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said he understands the need for a shortened schedule.
“It’s a tough pill for horsemen to swallow because fewer days mean fewer races mean fewer opportunities,” Violette said, “even though we fully understand five-horse fields are not the best thing for the industry.”
Racing continues on the inner track through March 26. The main track opens on March 31 for a 17-day meet through April 23 that includes two five-day race weeks. Racing moves to Belmont Park on April 28.