So it’s off we are to much-maligned Aqueduct today. Post time changes to 12:30 from 1:00, and when the horses leave the gate today, I’ll be in a paper conference with a student, and the earlier post time means that it’s less likely that I’ll be able to catch the last race when I get home from school.
But fashionable though it is to mock the beat-up old track in Queens, the last track within the City of New York, the track that years ago was ravaged to make room for the imminent (ha!) installation of VLTs, the track that patiently awaits its next incarnation, I herewith offer some of the reasons for which it will be great to be back at the Big A:
Subway accessibility. On the express, less than 45 minutes door to door. From my neighborhood, it’s a straight shot on the A train, and I’ll trade the BQE/LIE/Grand Central/Cross Island schlep for this any day.
The Manhattan Terrace. On the third floor of the Clubhouse, the Terrace offers spectacular views of Manhattan. The outdoor terrace is equipped with a television for watching the races; the huge bank of windows lets in natural light for those who prefer to stay inside. Booths offer private televisions (excellent watching for afternoon Rangers’ games between races), and the bartenders are jovial and glad to see you, regular or not.
Two-turn dirt races. For the first time since we left Saratoga, we’ll be able to watch horses break from the starting gate right in front of us. After the immensity of beautiful Belmont, the track at Aqueduct can feel downright cozy.
16 stakes races. Two Grade I’s, five Grade II’s, and nine Grade III’s, including the spectacular day of racing on November 29th, on which the Cigar Mile, the Gazelle, the Remsen, and the Demoiselle will be run. We’ll see the historic Fall Highweight and Stuyvesant, and November 15th offers six races in the New York Stallion Series.
Free parking and admission. Enough said.
The Ladies Handicap. Oh, wait…
New York favorites. Both human and equine familiar faces will be in regular attendance; while the faint of heart head south, the hearty horses and their trainers will stay here to brave the sometimes-bitter Aqueduct winter.
History. Aqueduct’s been around, in one form or another, for 115 years. Historic races, historic moments, historic horses, commemorative photos and memorabilia. I think that there’s someone out there reading who’s promised to help me track down the famous 1/8 pole from the old Aqueduct, at which John P. Grier headed Man o’War in the 1920 Dwyer. It survived one Aqueduct make-over; let’s make sure that it doesn’t get lost in the next one.
Sure, there’ll be plenty of days on which it’s excruciating to be at the Big A, on which we’ll wonder why we race through the winter, on which we’ll count the days to the Wood Memorial, to the end of the inner track season, to the return to Belmont.
But for now, we return to Aqueduct. I’ve got my Metrocard ready.