Track officials are beginning to question the expense of reviving the international trotting event.
by Tom Pedulla
The $1 million Yonkers International Trot, which resumed in 2015 after a 20-year absence, may be in jeopardy beyond this season.
“I would say this is maybe a make or break year,” said Bob Galterio, chief operating officer at Yonkers Raceway. The mile-and-a-quarter contest, which is struggling to return to the prestige it enjoyed when it was held at old Roosevelt Raceway, is scheduled for Oct. 14.
The International debuted at Roosevelt in 1959 and soon built a reputation for its ability to land the world’s finest trotters as part of an event that appealed to a global audience. Yonkers made a major commitment when it decided to resume the International as part of its effort to stimulate interest in its racing program abroad.
Beyond the purse, which makes it the richest standardbred race held in New York State, management makes a significant expenditure in its attempt to attract the best of the best while providing owners and trainers with first-class entertainment. A dinner cruise aboard a yacht that passes by the Statue of Liberty as it navigates around Manhattan is among the most popular activities.
Galterio is beginning to question the return on such a grand investment, however.
“The jury is still out on it,” he said. “I think it helps us world-wide as a symbol of top racing at Yonkers Raceway. But there comes a point where we’re going to have to sit down and see dollars and cents and say, ‘Is this really worth it?’ because it is a big financial undertaking.”
Joe Faraldo, president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, is adamant that the resumption of the International will be rewarded over the long haul.
“Yonkers people are concerned that we don’t make money on this or on that,” Faraldo said. “But racing needs marquee events. You need the Hambletonian. You need the Little Brown Jug. You need the International.”
Track officials were surely disappointed last year when Timoko, a runner-up to Norway’s Papagayo E. in 2015, did not return last October. That ultimately left the International without a participant from France, a key market for Yonkers due to its simulcasting relationship with Pari Mutuel Urbain (PMU) in that country. Elitlopp winner Nuncio of Sweden was another star that stayed away.
To make matters worse, Pagagayo E. was unable to defend his title due to an injured suspensory ligament. Last year’s edition was won by Resolve, one of three U.S. participants in the 38th edition of a race that lacked suspense. Resolve, the even-money favorite, led throughout and set a record for a half-mile oval by trotting the mile and a quarter in 2:23.4 to easily turn back Italy’s Oasis Bi.
Even if the International continues to lose money, Faraldo views that as a worthwhile loss.
“You can’t always make money on everything you do,” he said. “I don’t really care whether we’re making money or not in the short term. I care about making the product viable and the industry continuing on in the long term.”