Back to the Big A


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.

13 thoughts on “Back to the Big A

  1. Chris Lally Sez; Before I head off to the Albany Tele-Theater, into weather this morning no better than that in South Ozone Park, I would like to add that the dopes in San Mateo, California tore down beautiful and historic Bay Meadows Race Track. Bye, bye live racing in northern California. Do not think it will not happen in New York City. At least the Big A is running. There is a place to go where the players can actually see the horses in the paddock and watch the live action. I either have to move or wait for Saratoga. Boo Hoo….

  2. Hope you get home in time for the 9th. Take a look at our gelding, Talking Blues. He's the only MTO and maybe he can put a fright into the obvious favorites, Saginaw and Monastir. Besides, Bill Turner has a $4.18 ROR off a 2-6 month layoff. Don't leave him out of the exotics.

  3. Bravo! Praising the Big A is not a common stance, but a necesary one, as the previous poster pointed out. If we don't cradle our beloved old tracks like Aqueduct, they will disappear.

  4. Thank you for reminding us of the virtues of the Big A. It may be a dump, but it gets us through the winter.There's something else I like about the place: I cash tickets.Youbet now allows you to check your ROI on all kinds of wagers. You can search by racing surface or by specific racetrack, jockey, trainer, etc.So, with much trepidation, I checked out my record over the past 12 months. Much to my surprise, I learned that my ROI was higher at Aqueduct than at any other track. Which isn't saying much (I made a modest profit), but hey, I'd rather win money betting on Aqueduct than lose money betting on Gulfstream or Santa Anita.Your blog continues to be great. Many thanks.

  5. I live near Saratoga and I love the summer meets.I grew up in Brooklyn ( P.S. 95, Lafayette HS )and I learned, almost, everything I know about horse racing , handicapping and and becoming a man at the Big A. I still remember Fred capposella's call to the post and how the tellers would look the other way at a 14 yr old placing a $2 show bet. I remember the names of the patrons cowboy bill, broadway joe, old man john, as well as some of the horses.. Bandalog, Hoisery, Madame Sublime ( an 80.00 winner, my first big score… you can look it up) I like Saratoga and Belmont,but I grew up at Aqueduct

  6. I watched the first 3 races on NYCOTB TV, and while Durkins' "And we're off from Aquaduct" call didn't exactly have the same feel as the one he does to open the Upstate Meet, it still was kinda' fun and acted as a clear signal that the season has changed. Didn't look like anyone got rich today as favorites tended to dominate the results. No Show pool for races 7 & 8 after scratches.

  7. In the summer I wonder how we can race at Calder all season, in the winter I wonder how you do it up there all season.But it's a great excuse for a mid-winter trip back to the city… "We have to look at some horses!"

  8. Look at all of this Aqueduct love! Thanks, everyone, for reading and taking the time to comment. Good to know that the old place out in Queens still has its fans. Looking very forward to heading out there on Saturday.

  9. As a fellow city teacher I'm used to getting home for the late double too. Big A signals the beginning of the dark and depressing days of winter but it does have a certain charm to it and makes us appreciate the spring and summer. I'm just glad their Christmas break is not when we have off of school!

  10. If and when the VLT's are implemented and the Big A starts looking like The Taj Mahal (as it deserves to be) I'm going to come back and point this post out.For $10 million in handle every racing day, New Yorkers deserve a better kept facility than this. This is Big League racing in the Big Apple!! Hoping that day comes sooner rather than later. Steve Zorn, yes.Billy "the Bomber" Turner is on my radar screen again this meet.I'll be watching for Talking Blues as he needed the race today.Good luck with him this winter.

  11. The Big A reminds me of my childhood. I went many times out to the Big A and the now demolished Shea Stadium. I knew both Queens facilities lacked charm butI loved them just the same. I actually miss Shea now that it is gone, I feel old now and I fear I will miss the Big A even more when it eventually turns into a gaudy racino or whatever they end up calling it.

  12. Aqueduct has the most formful racing in the entire northen hemisphere. No turf sprints/polycrap/7F or weird distances. (Inner track of course). It is the only track that you can bet $1,000 to win and just worry about your handicapping and not some other minutia. My favorite track in the world.

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