The New York Racing Association (NYRA) has announced its leaner and meaner winter/spring racing and stakes schedule for 2019 at Aqueduct, with racing scheduled 3-4 days a week throughout the season until the opening of Belmont Park at the end of April.
Aqueduct’s winter schedule will be leaner, because it will feature a total of only 17 live racing dates in January, 16 racing dates in February, and 15 racings dates in March. This will lead up to The Big A’s brief spring meet, which will include 12 dates of higher-quality racing from April 5-20. The Aqueduct winter and spring meets will be meaner, because they will be highlighted by a stakes program encompassing 52 races worth more than $7 million in purses from mid-December until closing day on Saturday, April 20.
The Aqueduct stakes schedule from here on out will be mainly made up of New York-bred events, usually worth $100,000 apiece. Aqueduct, however, will also feature a strong 3-year-old stakes program on the road to the Kentucky Derby (and Kentucky Oaks), as well as a couple standout big stakes dates along the way.
Aqueduct’s 2019 schedule will kick-off with Tuesday racing on New Year’s Day on a card featuring the $150,000 Jerome Stakes for newly-turned 3-year-olds. The Jerome, which was won in 2018 by Firenze Fire, who went on to enjoy a successful campaign, will be worth 10 Kentucky Derby (G1) qualifying points to the winner and is expected to draw a full field of hopefuls led by Grade 1 Hopeful winner Mind Control.
The next Kentucky Derby stepping stone race at Aqueduct will be on Feb. 2, with the running of the $250,000 Withers Stakes (G3).
The Jerome and the Withers will be followed by the $300,000 Gotham (G3) on March 9. The Gotham will headline what figures to be Aqueduct’s first true standout race date of 2019 on a card that will also include the $250,000 Busher Invitational for 3-year-old fillies, the $150,000 Stymie for handicap horses, and the $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap (G3) for sprinters going six furlongs.
The 12-day Aqueduct Spring Meet in April will feature six graded stakes races, including five graded stakes on the track’s marquee Wood Memorial (G2) card on Saturday, April 6. In addition to the $750,000 Wood for 3-year-olds, which will offer maximum Kentucky Derby points, the April 6 card will also be headlined by New York’s first Grade 1 of 2019, the $400,000 Carter Handicap for sprinters going seven furlongs. Other stakes that day will include the $250,000 Bay Shore (G3) for 3-year-old sprinters going seven furlongs, the $150,000 Excelsior (G3) for older horses, and New York’s final Kentucky Oaks prep for 3-year-old fillies in the $300,000 Gazelle (G2).
Aqueduct’s winter jockey colony is expected to be a scramble again this year, just as it was last winter season which was the first since perennial leading riders, brothers Irad and Jose Ortiz, shifted their winter tack down to Gulfstream Park.
The void atop the jockey’s standings this year seems to be being filled best by current leading rider Junior Alvarado, who is back to full health after various physical setbacks the last couple winters. He is riding first call for some top trainers, including Linda Rice, and has taken advantage by racking up 12 wins to lead all riders at the current Aqueduct meet (through Dec. 18). Last winter’s leading rider Manny Franco struggled a bit early, but has rallied of late to tally six wins from his 36 mounts — and he should continue to rise in the Big A winter standings and contend for the title as well.
Leading apprentice Reylu Gutierrez arrived on the scene in New York about a month ago and is already making waves in the jockey standings at the current winter meet. Gutierrez has done his best riding over the course of the last few weeks and is now 7-for-42 at the current meet, good for second in the jockey standings.
Other riders that figure to be in the top five of the winter jockey standings include Dylan Davis (eight wins at the current meet), and the slow-starting Eric Cancel (just 3-for-39 so far), and David Cohen (just 2-for-30 as of Dec. 18).
The leading trainers for the Aqueduct winter meet are expected to be led by perennial New York winter power Rudy Rodriguez and, perhaps, Jeremiah Englehart (6 wins through Dec. 18) and Linda Rice (7). Michelle Nevin will also be a big factor at Aqueduct this winter, as will Charlton Baker. Bigger stables such as Jason Servis, Kiaran McLaughin, Bill Mott, Todd Pletcher and Steve Asmussen, are also expected to run small strings of horses at Aqueduct throughout the season.