Signature Showcase

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Many of the country’s state-bred breeding programs put on a standalone day of racing to put the spotlight on the state’s product. A handful might put on two. The very rare few feature three.

New York stages three racing programs restricted to New York-breds and the third, the original and the most popular of the trio – the Empire Showcase – will go down for the 21st time Saturday at Belmont Park. The Empire Showcase features eight stakes worth $1.7 million and it follows the already run Big Apple Showcase in the spring at Belmont and Saratoga Showcase in the summer at Saratoga. The Empire Showcase was inaugurated in 1994 and typically goes a long way toward determining the champions bred in New York.

Tom Law, managing editor of This Is Horse Racing, recently caught up with New York Thoroughbred Breeders’ executive director Jeffrey Cannizzo to discuss the past, present and future of Showcase Day events and the 2014 edition of the Empire Showcase.

TIHR: What makes the Empire Showcase card stand out from the other two special New York-bred days?
Jeffrey Cannizzo: The Empire Showcase Day is the original championship day for New York-breds. For decades this day determined many of the state-bred champions for each division. It was the first $1 million-dollar day for New York-breds in New York, therefore it has the most prestige for our program. This year the day is worth $1.7 million in purses.

TIHR: Any significant changes?
JC: We added one new race – the Empire Distaff for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles and for a purse of $250,000. It’s a natural fit and will help the older female division and our bloodstock market. We then added to the Empire Classic, making it worth $300,000 to enhance the marquee race for New York-breds as it should be. Lastly, we upped the purses for both 2-year-old stakes to $250,000, making them the defining races for our juveniles.

TIHR: Discuss what makes big days like Empire Showcase, Big Apple Showcase and Saratoga Showcase so special.
JC: These multi-million dollar days help define the term “Showcase.” The intent is to show off the best state-breds. NYRA has also included various state level agricultural programs to help make these days the best of what New York has to offer. It’s the same principle that tracks use these big single-day events to draw fans and handle, so it benefits NYRA. Typically these days are some of NYRA’s top days for handle, usually in the top five on the year. People who follow New York racing see these days as a way to determine our own champions for each division. The black-type gives value to breeders. The purse structure provides value to owners and bloodstock agents. Overall everyone wins.

TIHR: Back in May you said you’d like to see the Showcase Days continue to grow with participation. Considering there are 82 horses entered in the eight stakes (including MTOs and AEs), how would you assess the Empire Showcase card heading into Saturday?
JC: 82 horses entered says it all for eight stakes races. The field size is what you would hope for. Horsemen target this day year after year for New York-breds as they should. Our improved 2014 stakes schedule, which was laid out well in advance for the entire year, helped create a year-long program for each division leading up to this day.  The great part is that that schedule will continue all the way until the last day of the year for New York-breds.

TIHR: Nineteen of the 82 horses entered competed on the inaugural Saratoga Showcase Day card and 19 competed on the Big Apple Showcase card. That’s a pretty good return rate. How important is it to have those repeat competitors?
JC: It builds competition and helps develop a fan base for these horses. This type of model is actually what the national picture needs in some fashion further than what we have today. People love to develop favorites and follow them. It’s a racing circuit, with quality.  

TIHR: This summer marked the first Showcase event at Saratoga. Can you give that event a grade and explain why?
JC: I’d give it a B+. Simply because we should always keep improving and never be stagnant. The handle was good, attendance was solid, both of which were an increase from the same day in prior years at Saratoga. Therefore it worked for NYRA and for the New York Thoroughbred Breeders. I want to see greater participation to the point of which we average 10-horse fields, as we are this weekend on Empire Day. I’m confident it will happen with our increasing foal crop size.

TIHR: We also talked about expansion back in May, possibly for a Showcase Day every quarter. Any possibility of that in the near future?
JC: In the upcoming weeks Martin Panza and I will be laying out the 2015 New York-bred stakes schedule. At that point we will evaluate what worked in 2014 and what we can make better and/or develop. 

TIHR: This is a repeat from May but worthy of another response. Where would you like to see the Showcase racing programs in five years?
JC: Again, my goal is too have these days on national television in five years. There is a possibility that Empire Showcase Day 2015 could very well be broadcast on one of NYRAs efforts with Fox Sports 1.

TIHR: One more, talk about the priorities for the NYTB in 2015 and beyond.
JC: NYTB is focused on 1) protecting breeders’ and horsemen’s interests with purses and breeder awards via casino gaming; 2) long-term planning for NYRA at its three racing venues; 3) New York-bred race days; 4) increasing the value of New York-breds both in the sales ring and on the racetrack due to the previous points.


Entries for Saturday’s Empire Showcase from Equibase.

Read more about the Empire Showcase from NYRA.