Trainers Eddie Barker (right) and Mertkan Kantarmaci.
Barker and Kantarmaci share Under 20’s Claiming Challenge title for Aqueduct winter meet
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – The New York Racing Association Inc. (NYRA) today announced trainers Eddie Barker and Mertkan Kantarmaci finished as co-leaders of the Under 20’s Claiming Challenge for the Aqueduct winter meet.
Barker and Kantarmaci were each awarded $16,500 for their joint winning effort in the unique program, launched in 2018, which is open to local trainers with 20 or fewer horses.
The shared victory marked the third consecutive win in the series for Kantarmaci, who won the 2018-19 Aqueduct winter and 2019 Belmont spring/summer Under 20s Claiming Challenge titles outright.
The 28-year-old Kantarmaci came to the United States in 2016 from Turkey. A native of Istanbul, Kantarmaci got his start in his homeland for his father Tuncay, a successful trainer, where he served as an assistant trainer and exercise rider.
Kantarmaci now oversees a stable of 16 horses in New York with the assistance of his father and brother, Ilkay. The stable was on a roll when the winter meet was cut short, finishing first and third with two of their last three starters – Talent Scout and Our Stormin Norman – in a $16,000 claiming sprint on March 14 to help secure the tie.
“Talent Scout ran a really good race. We expected the other horse to win, but Talent Scout ran huge that day,” said Kantarmaci, who compiled a ledger of 6-6-7 from 52 starters at the Big A winter meet.
Kantarmaci said he is hopeful of another strong meet when live racing returns at Belmont.
“New York has the best racing,” said Kantarmaci. “The purses are great, and there are better opportunities to find good horses here. One day I hope to have a really good horse to help lift myself and my family up in New York. That’s what I’m looking for.”
Barker, who has spent 28 years on the NYRA circuit, captured the inaugural Under 20’s Claiming Challenge at the 2018 Belmont spring/summer meet. He posted a record of 8-9-11 from 62 starters at the Big A winter meet led by a pair of scores each from Money Ride and Victory Boulevard.
“This additional money comes in really handy and I’m sure it’s helping the trainers who came in third, fourth and fifth as well. The money is all going to go to a good purpose,” said Barker.
Barker and Kantarmaci’s barns compiled a total of 105 points each through Sunday, March 15 when live racing was last conducted on the NYRA circuit at Aqueduct Racetrack.
During the Big A winter meet, trainers earned points based on their horses’ performances in all winners’ claiming races with the top-eight trainers in the contest sharing a prize pool of $80,000. Stall allotments for the Aqueduct winter meet were used to determine eligible trainers.
The contest point structure returns 6-5-4-3-2 points for top-five finishes for dirt races. Points are only earned for top-five finishes in claiming races for winners. Winners of a qualifying race earn six points regardless of claiming price.
There can be no more than 20 horses on a trainer’s roster at any given time, although a trainer’s stable may grow above 20 horses through claiming activity. But not all horses will eligible for the contest, and only roster horses can earn points. A trainer may replace a claimed horse who was on their roster with another claimed horse. After a horse is claimed, it can only be added to the trainer’s roster at the trainer’s request. Horses in for a tag in an allowance optional claiming race qualify for contest points. Points are not earned in maiden, allowance, starter allowance or stakes races.
Barker said he is looking forward to the return of live racing at Belmont Park. “We’ve been able to give the horses a little break while keeping them semi-fit and happy and healthy,” said Barker. “That will go a long way when this meet does open. I’ve got 16 horses and they’ll all be ready for opening day.”
The top eight trainers in the contest shared in a prize pool of $80,000:
Eddie Barker (105 points) – $16,500
Mertkan Kantarmaci (105) – $16,500
Randi Persaud (80) – $13,000
Orlando Noda (59) – $11,000
John Toscano, Jr. (58) – $9,000
David Cannizzo (55) – $7,000
Ralph D’Alessandro (54) – $3,500
James Ferraro (54) – $3,500
Past winners of the Under 20s Claiming Challenge
2019/20 Aqueduct winter – Eddie Barker, Mertkan Kantarmaci (tie)
2019 Belmont spring/summer – Mertkan Kantarmaci
2018/19 Aqueduct winter – Mertkan Kantarmaci
2018 Belmont spring/summer – Eddie Barker NYRA Press Release
Credits: Eddie Barker and America’s Pastime Stables, respectively