Batavia’s Biggest Night Ever

The track is hosting the Sire Stakes finals for the first time and there is $1.8 million up for grabs.

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

Batavia Downs has hosted harness racing for—-a lot of years (the track opened in 1940).  It is the oldest lighted harness track in the USA, but they have never had a night like they will have this Saturday.

For the first time, the Genesee County track will host the finals of the New York State Sire Stakes.  That’s eight races for 2 and 3-year old fillies, colts and geldings with each race carrying a $225,000 purse.  In short, with $1.8 million in purses, it is the “biggest night ever in Batavia Downs history.”

Those that follow harness racing know what the sire stakes are.  Most states have them and the purpose is to encourage those who love the game to breed and race in a particular state, in this case, New York.

One could make the argument that Ohio might be best of the all when it comes to sire stakes action.  The Buckeye State has become a terrific place to breed and race horses.  There are four harness tracks—Northfield Park is the year-rounder while Scioto, Miami Valley and Dayton split the calendar in thirds.  With only two tracks running at a time, the fields are full and cards are long.

If Ohio is 1, New York is 1A; it all depends on who you ask.  New York divides its sire stakes into three classes—Sire Stakes, Excelsior A and Excelsior B.  Horses have to be nominated the year prior and have to be pay the corresponding nominating fees.  The races take place throughout the year at New York’s seven harness tracks.

Those that scored enough points are racing in the finals at Batavia with the consolations held this Sunday at Vernon Downs.  The Excelsior finals are slated for Saratoga Casino Hotel on Saturday, Sept. 21.

The headliner is Gimpanzee, who will race in the 3-year colt and gelding trot.  He was good enough to make the Hambletonian final where he finished third behind upset winner Forbidden Trade and the favorite, Greenshoe.

In the second leg of Trotting’s Triple Crown, the Yonkers Trot, he turned the tables, beating Forbidden Trade in the $500,000 final.  The horse loves half-mile tracks and should find Batavia Downs to his liking.

All eight races have full eight horse fields which we all love to see.  Harness racing is having a good year.  Through Sept. 10, total handle for 2,438 racing dates is $1.043 billion, up 4.54 percent from last year.  Batavia is one of the reasons why.

The track is on an uptick.  Purses are up, handle is up and so too, is attendance.  The Sire Stakes is always a good card as it showcases the best that New York breeding has to offer. One would hope that the word will get out and there will be a nice crowd at the venerable track come Saturday night.

In addition to the 64 horses, the sport’s best drivers will be heading west on the New York State Thruway to take part in these big money races.  The names include Hall of Famer Brian Sears, Jason Bartlett, Tyler Buter, Joe Bongiorno, Matt Kakaley, Scott Zeron and many more.

While the Sire Stakes is the highlight, it wouldn’t be right to neglect those who race the Batavia circuit on a regular basis, thus, there are three races with local flavor.

The lidlifter is a $15,000 open trot while the11th and 12th  races are $11,000 and $10,000 open paces.  It’s always important to have a couple of races for the regulars to give those who wager there some familiarity.

The other “wild card” race is the $50,000 Robert Kane Memorial Pace.  The seven horses have combined to make 129 starts this year, led by the venerable Southwind Amazon, who has a record of 12-6-3 in 27 starts to go along with $161,000 in earnings.  Yonkers regular Somewhere in LA will make start number 24 and Imarocnrollegend will start for the 22nd time.

Post time is set for 6 pm and it looks like the weather will be ideal for Batavia’s “Night of Champions.”

The full card is right here.




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