Bad-mouthing the Big A

When, in yesterday’s New York Post, Ed Fountaine wrote, “Wednesday kicks off a six-month stretch at South Ozone Park Correctional Facility, otherwise known as the Big A,” he was only the most recent New York turf writer to comment disparagingly on Aqueduct.

Most of the historical reports of racing that I’ve read are effusive to the point of straining credulity, panegyrics to the bucolic parks of yesteryear, peopled by the fashionable and the rich. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve read that New York racing had seen “no finer day” than the racing day in question.

But poor Aqueduct has been maligned virtually from the start—that is, when it wasn’t being ignored. One tiny notice in the New York Times remarked on the opening of the new race track in September 1894; not for Aqueduct were any of the luxurious, detailed articles that favored the Morris, Jerome and Sheepshead Bay tracks.

And when Aqueduct did manage to attract some attention from the Times, it probably wished that it had stayed ignored for a little longer. Here are some of the choice tidbits offered by the anonymous turf writer:

July 18, 1895: “Horses Ran At Aqueduct.”

The racing was very poor, and hadn’t much resemblance to sport. The card was
ruined by scratches, and every favorite was beaten. These summaries tell all
that is worth recording of the racing.

[The summaries are elder relatives of what we’d call charts, offering the conditions of the race, the assigned weights, the odds, the order of finish, and the pedigrees, ages, colors and sexes of the horses who ran. Summaries offered no recaps of the races.]

July 20, 1895. “It Is Called Racing. A Poor Lot of Thoroughbreds Struggle over the Aqueduct Track.”

What they are pleased to term racing was continued at the Aqueduct track
yesterday, a few people making the trip out to the grounds for the sake of
betting on the horses. Five of the six favorites had won on Thursday, and so the
few spectators backed favorites yesterday, with the usual results. The favorites
were all beaten, with one exception.

But twenty-six horses ran in the six races, and probably not one of the contestants was worth the amount of the purse it won. These summaries give all the information necessary about the merry-go-round races.

August 18, 1895: “Poor Card, Worse Racing. Uninteresting Contests at Aqueduct Race Track.”

Notwithstanding that the card at Aqueduct yesterday was anything but inviting,
the fields being small and the quality poor, the crowd was the largest of the
meeting, fully 5,000 being present. The racing was in keeping with the poor
card, not one of the events bringing about a semblance of a contest, and, to
make matters worse, only one favorite was successful throughout the afternoon.

October 10, 1895: “Aqueduct Favorites Beaten. All of Them Affected by the Cold at Yesterday’s Race.

It was a 10-to-1 day at the Aqueduct track, where they had the racing yesterday.
The weather was 10 degrees below comfort, the wind blew ten knots an hour from
the northeast, and all but one of the races were won by horses against which the
average odds were 10 to 1…As a consequence the bitter cold wintry wind that blew
in from Jamaica Bay was not a whit colder than the plungers, who found playing
favorites such a biting frost.

A further review of the year’s racing reports reveals at least three headlines in which jockeys were blamed for the bad racing.

And much of this grumbling happened during the summer months; one can only imagine what vitriol might have been spewed had racing been held in February.

So Big A bitching may well be a time-honored tradition, but I’ll be back tomorrow with all of the reasons that I love Aqueduct, and why I’m looking forward to the trek to Ozone Park this Saturday.

Aqueduct Favorites Beaten. All of Them Affected by the Cold at Yesterday’s Race.” New York Times. 10 Oct. 1895. Web. 26 Oct. 2009.

Fountaine, Ed. “Through the Binocs.” New York Post. 26 Oct. 2009. Web. 26 Oct. 2009.

Horses Ran at Aqueduct.” New York Times. 18 July 1895. Web. 26 Oct. 2009.

It Is Called Racing. A Poor Lot of Thoroughbreds Struggle over the Aqueduct Track.” New York Times. 20 July 1895. Web. 26 Oct. 2009.

Poor Card, Worse Racing. Uninteresting Contests at Aqueduct Race Track.” New York Times. 18 Aug. 1895. Web. 26 Oct. 2009.

7 thoughts on “Bad-mouthing the Big A

  1. Brooklyn Backstretch wrote:all of the reasons that I love Aqueduct, and why I’m looking forward to the trek to Ozone Park this Saturday.__________Well you don't have to watch Mr. G to find out what the forecast is at the moment. 😉

  2. I remember my first trip to the Big A well. It was the Fall of 1985 and I had just moved to NYC from New Orleans. I arrived just in time to attend the 2nd Breeders Cup, which was held that year in Queens. I found the A train and headed out to a neighborhood that was forgien to me. Having attended the races at Fairgounds for years I had a perception of what the Big A might be like. But I quickly realized I was very naive and never had I seen so many gathered for horse racing in my life. Plus, the Grandstand was huge, and on that day it was packed. I realized then what all new New Yorkers come to feel; this is one big city and it's not like the place you just transferred from. But I held my own that day with the big crowd, the betting, and the long subway ride. And the rest is history as I continue to make my way out every winter, and have actualy really come to like the place. Indeed, "if walls could talk…" I would love to hear what they had to say. It's great the feature on Opening Day is run in honor of Proud Truth. He won the Classic that afternoon in 1985. My biggest fears are for the future on AQU and hoping a budget starved State of New York does not sell the property to the Port Authority and think it would be fine to run racing all winter at BEL. If that were to happen, I think the Ed Fontaine's would be quick to feel remorse for all their critcal views of the Big A.

  3. Every lost cause has its most sincere & ferverent admirers.For the rest of us, we're going out to AQ this winter in the month of Never, 2010.

  4. TKS: Unbelievable. Another rainy Saturday.BSaint: I'll look forward to seeing you out there.Grumpy anons: maybe you should get some more sleep?

  5. 5,000 fans on Aug. 18th, 1895? I (and NYRA) would settle for that any day at the Big A this winter.I kind of like the six-month pattern. One gets to settle in at a regular table in the Man o' War Room, and by the end of the spring meet you're on a first-name basis with every other regular there (kinda reminds me of a Ph.D. dissertation on the regulars at a Nevada OTB titled "Degenerates of Lake Tahoe".And if you own mostly NY-breds, as we do, it couldn't be better. Where else on the NYRA schedule could you win a maiden special with a 42 Beyer?

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