Whenever I go to Aqueduct, I assume that it’s going to be cold.
A pleasant surprise, then, that yesterday was sunny and warm, and most of us at the Big A were overdressed, especially when we stood in the sun. In fact, the weather was far nicer today than it was on most Saturdays at Belmont; on four of the five Saturdays I was there, it was grey and raining, and the one sunny day was cold.
So perhaps because of the weather, and perhaps because it was opening weekend, and perhaps, as a friend suggested, because the approval of a VLT operator brings optimism to the old track at Ozone Park, a decent and enthusiastic crowd of just about 4,000 turned out yesterday.
The good news: As has been widely reported, entry and parking are now free. I now save $2 on the clubhouse entry; I take the subway, so parking is irrelevant.
The bad news: Programs have gone up .50, to $3.50. They were $2.50 at Belmont in the spring, $3 at Saratoga and Belmont in the fall, and now $3.50. Ouch.
Standing by the winner’s circle following the fourth race, won by Lime Rickey, we experienced a moment of which none of us wants to be a part: waiting for the horses to come back, we saw the red NYRA truck pull up in front of us on the track. “Badgett! Badgett!” Badgett’s groom, looking bewildered, looked around, and Billy Badgett came up the stairs, understood what was happening, and got into the truck. The groom hesitated, not sure what to do; “Get in!”, with urgency. And off they went to the backstretch, to tend to Laguna Moon, who finished fourth but was injured galloping out and vanned off. I’ll see what I can find out about him.
Race 7 was today’s feature, the Grade III Long Island Handicap for fillies and mare, a mile and a half on the turf. The favored European shippers finished third and sixth, and Tom Albertrani’s Criticism won by a length. As the horses came back to be unsaddled, Tyler Baze, jockey on seventh place finisher Marzelline, said to his trainer, “Well, that was disappointing.”
As Criticism was brought to the winner’s circle and unsaddled, she looked a little stubborn and cranky, throwing her head, and as her handler tried to walk her down to the paddock to cool her out, she refused. She planted her feet; she’d walk a few steps, and stop again. Concerned that she’d tie up, Albertrani’s assistant tried to soothe her, walking her this way and that, giving up on the paddock and just trying to get her back to the barn; she’d have none of it. They called for a pony, to try to relax her and show her the way; though none came, she finally relented and let herself be led down the walkway. “She just wanted to enjoy the moment,” said Albertrani. Down in the paddock, she was hosed down and given plenty of water; as the horses for the eighth race walked before the post parade, Criticism was finally led off to the barn. Look for her next in Florida.
In the eighth, Brooklyn Backstretch favorite Be Bullish returned to the scene of his last victory, way back in February. I wrote about him here in August, shortly after his third-place finish in an overnight stakes at Saratoga. And I guess for this grey gelding, there’s no place like home, as he stalked the pace, made his move around the far turn, and took over at the top of the stretch, drawing away decisively to win by a length and a half. Discreet Treasure closed from last to finish a fast-closing second (giving me the exacta).
Following the race, trainer Scott Schwartz may have looked a little surprised at how well his horse ran; he can be a little bit of a head case, but today, he ran like a grown-up racehorse. Schwartz put blinkers back on to keep Be Bullish focused, and it seemed to work, as he kept to his business throughout the stretch run. When asked what the difference was today, Schwartz said, “He’s at his home track; he’s comfortable.” See? Aqueduct has lots of fans.
A little further afield, a couple of other Brooklyn favorites had good days on Saturday; at Churchill, which ran a full card of two-year-old races, Dale Romans, profiled here at Saratoga, won three races. During the morning I spent at his barn, we watched his lovely filly Sara Louise work over the main track under Robby Albarado, who said then, “She could win first time out.” Well, it took her two tries to break her maiden, and today she won the Grade III Pocahontas, garnering her second win in three starts. Jason Shandler’s report in The Blood-Horse makes her sound mighty special indeed…and we can say we knew her when…
Not many New York trainers were at the Big A yesterday to saddle their horses; maybe they were at Churchill? So when I looked up to see a dead ringer for Bill Mott (who had only one horse entered here yesterday and four in Kentucky) hanging on the clubhouse rail overlooking the paddock, I nudged my friends and said, “Doesn’t that guy look exactly like Bill Mott?” They not only agreed, but one said to Adam Coglianese, NYRA track photographer, “Doesn’t that guy look exactly like Bill Mott?”; Adam then looked at us quizzically and said, “Um, yeah, that IS Bill Mott.”