Batavia Downs Off and Running

Batavia picks up where Buffalo Raceway left off.

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

Last week, a tornado hit Western New York touching down in Hamburg and Orchard Park; the Southtowns as the natives call them.  One of the victims was Buffalo Raceway, which saw its press box destroyed. The good news was that there were no injuries and the bad news, of course, is that money and insurance will have to be used to repair the facility. As weird as this may sound, the Raceway was lucky. They had to cancel the remainder of their 2017 season, but the season was down to its final three cards.  In many ways, it could have been much worse. Simulcasting will be closed, but again, the track was spared utter devastation.

The Western New York Harness racing circuit is comprised of two tracks; Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs. The tracks are separated by 54 miles, so many of the horses will van over to their new home for the Batavia portion of the season. Buffalo runs from January to July and then Batavia picks up from July to mid-December, giving WNY an all-year calendar much like Monticello and Yonkers racetracks do. This year, Buffalo scheduled 90 racing dates with Batavia checking in with 71, for a total of 161.

Batavia opened its campaign with New York Sires and Excelsior Stakes action for two-year-old filly trotters as well as three races for the “regulars.” In the $10,000 Open Pace, Sportsmuffler, who ran all year at Buffalo, rallied from next-to-last to win in a fine time of 1:55 over the half-mile oval.  Both tracks are similar, but Batavia seems to be a bit gentler in the turns allowing a horse like Sportsmuffler to come from behind. That is much tougher to do at Buffalo.

In the $7,800 “second” feature, Kruella rallied from the back to prevail in 1:55.3, another quick time.  Like “Muffler,” Kruella was a winter/spring stalwart at Buffalo Raceway and she had to beat Quicksilvercandy, who won 13 times at Buffalo and was recently named  its 2017 Horse of the Year.

The $7,000 race saw Dontchremember fight off some stiff challenges to wire the field in 1:56.  Jim Morrill was the winning driver, giving him four wins on the night.

As mentioned, there were four divisions of the New York State Sires Stakes, each with purses of over $21,000.  There were also five divisions of the Excelsior Series; four of which were class A and the fifth, class B.  Swedish legend Ake Svanstedt who drives and trains won four races.  Svanstedt is best known for being the pilot of Resolve, the 2016 International Trot winner who will be racing tomorrow afternoon in the $250,000 Spirit of Massachusetts Trot at Plainridge Park.

The 2017 season is off to a good start at “The Downs.”  The racing schedule is a bit quirky.  In August, they will race Sundays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; in September, they will stick with Fridays and Saturdays with a few Tuesdays sprinkled in.  Being in Western New York, there is no sense offering live racing on fall Sundays when the Buffalo Bills are playing; it is an exercise in futility even though the Bills haven’t been to the postseason since 1999!  With the exception of a 1:15 pm Columbus Day post time, both October and November will see racing offered on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.  In December, there are seven dates— 1, 2, 6, 8, 9 and 15 with closing day coming on Saturday, December 16.

Batavia Downs is the oldest lighted harness track in the United States and last night was the 71st season opener for the venerable old facility located off Exit 48 of the New York State Thruway.

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