Saturday was the first day that I’ve ever spent on my own at Aqueduct, and I’m not entirely sure that it’s an experience I’d like to repeat, though I did seem to make a lot of friends. I’ve been to lots of other tracks on my own—Gulfstream, Saratoga, Belmont, Tampa Bay Downs—but all of them in the warm weather, when it’s easy to go outside and wander, and hang out by the paddock. Today, on a grey and raw January day, staying outside wasn’t much of an option, and I found myself a spot in the third-floor Manhattan Terrace, at times wishing that I’d brought the Saturday Times with me.
Surprisingly, I got one of the little booths with its own television set, enabling me to switch back and forth between the races and the Rangers/Bruins game, which came to the end of regulation tied 3-3 at precisely the time that Evening Attire was headed to the paddock, so I didn’t know until I got home that the Rangers had lost in a shootout.
I got to hang out on my own for a while, reading my past performances and watching the game, but it wasn’t too long before folks starting coming around to make friends. Donnie and Paulie, Skip and Dominick (and I swear I am not making up these names) all swung by, to ask if I really liked hockey (yes), and if I came to the track often (yes), and hey, could they buy me a drink? (In all cases but one, no.) They were all perfectly friendly, but most of them also felt the need to sort of quiz me about my racing knowledge, and they acted surprised when I said something that indicated that knowledge–like anybody who didn’t really like racing would be at Aqueduct in January. I mean, why else would you be there?
My betting was awful; in most races I wasn’t even close, probably because I was trying too hard to beat favorites. I left Brooklyn a little later than I’d intended and realized on the train that I really wanted to make the second race, a maiden special weight full of promising horses and the sort of race you don’t usually see in New York at this time of year. I jogged from the station to the track, knowing that it would be close, fully aware that running to make a race is a virtual certain guarantee to lose it. I made it, and I lost it, throwing out the even-money favorite, Hotrail, who won wire-to-wire, flying through early fractions and barely holding off Magical Forest. I thought for sure Hotrail would be cooked by the stretch, and if the wire hadn’t come when it did he’d have lost, but he was still impressive. I’m not happy Hotrail beat me, but he’s going in my watch list.
The scratch of Salzburg in the third left a five-horse field, so rather than handicap, I went to my “long price in a short field” theory, betting Lemon Shore, who went off at nearly 30 – 1 and finished fourth. Silver Light, the even money favorite, took this one. I should have handicapped.
We got away from favorites in the fourth, but it did me no good. I looked closely at Determined Again, because I like lightly raced horses in a field of veteran maidens, but not closely enough; he finished second, paying $26.60 to place, while my horses finished third, fifth, and seventh.
I’ve become a fan of the Grand Slam because it’s a cheap bet that can return more than simple betting on favorites, so I usually throw one together. Today’s looked like this:
Race 5: Commodore Way. I liked Steve Klesaris, and I’d heard earlier that horses shipping from Philly had hit big lately. I also liked the odds.
Race 6: Went with the Hushion entry, again after hearing some chatter about him, and again in search of a non-favorite. And hey, I always like getting two horses for the price of one .
Race 7: Went two-deep with Mr. Component and Al’s Lark. I like McLaughlin’s barn and this horse’s record, and I thought I’d take a flyer on a horse who hadn’t raced since March. Al’s Lark had raced seven times and finished first or second six of those times, and I figured he had a good shot to hit the board, which was all I needed.
Race 8: I used Evening Attire and Angliana.
And after all that, I was out in the first leg, as Commodore Way hung with the leaders until the stretch, then backed up to finish sixth. I was also out in the third leg. It’s a bad day when you can’t pick a horse to even hit the board in two races. And as noted in an earlier post, I neglected to box an Evening Attire/Angliana exacta.
So on the whole, an entirely unsatisfying day at the windows. Fortunately, I generally only bet when I actually go to the track, so my fortunes are safe for the next few weeks. And even though Evening Attire finished second, I’m glad that I was there to see him, and it made the dreary afternoon worth it.
And hey, next time I go by myself, I’ll have a whole new group of friends to hang out. Save me a seat, Paulie…