NEW YORK - Battling financial uncertainty and freshly scarred from fending off federal indictments, the New York Racing Association will play host to the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships for the fifth time in the event's 22-year history Saturday.
The Breeders' Cup could have opted to run the event at another track, but the show will go on at Belmont Park.
"Looking back 18 months or a year, we were well aware of what was going on with the New York Racing Association," said D.G. Van Clief, the president of Breeders' Cup Limited. "We stayed in close touch with them all the time on a number of fronts, on a pretty constant basis. Were we concerned with regards to racing revelations about the cash flow situation? Sure we were, but we have all the assurances from NYRA and the state of New York that are totally comfortable that we can put on a first-class world championship."
The relationship between the Breeders' Cup and the host track is that of a contractor, according to Van Clief.
"The Breeders' Cup is a sponsor and a rightsholder," he said. "We put up the $14.5-million in purses on that day. We support the event with a completely separate budget of our own. We have a tremendous amount of creative control over the day. But we are not a racetrack operator, we are not licensed to run races or operate pari-mutuel wagering in the state of New York or anywhere else. We contract with the track operator to conduct the day for us."
LEGGIO'S GIFT TO LOUISIANA.: Andrew Leggio would like to bring a Breeders' Cup victory back to Louisiana.
Leggio has been training horses in the state since 1970. On Saturday, he'll start his first horse in the Breeders' Cup, Happy Ticket in the Distaff.
One day before Hurricane Katrina hit, the filly gave Leggio his first Grade 1 victory in the Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga. It took Leggio two days to get home to the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, La., and survey the damage.
"When I got back, it looked like an atomic bomb fell on the whole darned city," Leggio said. "The place was really in shambles and it's still in that state right now. You have to see it to appreciate it. What you see on television doesn't do it any justice."
Fortunately, Leggio's family was safe.
"I was worried about my three kids and 11 grandchildren," Leggio said. "I was very concerned. I called down there and told them to move out to Shreveport where I have a little farm, which they did."
Leggio found his house damaged, but still standing.
"Everything turned out well for us," Leggio said. "We had a lot of damage to our homes. It's all repairable and we didn't lose any lives or horses."
OUT OF FOCUS: Hall of Famers Jerry Bailey and D. Wayne Lukas feel racing is not doing an effective job promoting the Breeders' Cup.
Bailey, one of the sport's all-time leading jockeys, wants to see the focus shift to trainers and jockeys instead of the horses.
"I don't think the Breeders' Cup is any different than all of racing," Bailey said. "The horses are the stars of our sport, no question, but they simply don't last long enough. They are here today and gone before tomorrow. The human element of our sport, the trainers and jockeys, show up at these races year in, year out.
Lukas, who leads all trainers with 17 Breeders' Cup victories, wants to see more advertising for Saturday. "We've always had some ads and some promo," he said. "I haven't seen a darn thing."
CAN ARTIE BOUNCE BACK?: Artie Schiller tuned up for the Mile on the turf with a 3-furlong workout Thursday at Belmont in 36.40 seconds. The 4-year-old will attempt to rebound from a 12th-place finish as the favorite in last year's trouble-filled Mile at Lone Star Park in Texas.
Artie Schiller was in traffic trouble on both turns. "It was terrible," trainer James Jerkens said. "It left me with a bad feeling when he didn't have a chance to run his race."