Yesterday was closing day at Aqueduct, a sodden, sloppy, chilly day far more redolent of winter than of spring.
And the day before that, the New York Rangers played dreadfully in their own building, losing a game they needed to win, and will play tonight in Ottawa to save their season, down 3-2 in their first round playoff series.
Winter of discontent, indeed.
When Shakespeare’s Richard III declared, “Now is the winter of our discontent,” he used the season as a metaphor for the end of unhappy times; it is in fact a statement of optimism, made clear in the next line, “Made glorious summer by this sun of York.”
It comes to my mind literally today, the winter of 2011-2012 offering more than a few reasons to be discontent.
At Aqueduct and Madison Square Garden, it was a winter of transitions. Out in Ozone Park, a new neighbor moved in; the Genting casino was a smashing success from the beginning, and it was nice to have good food and a decent bar nearby. The clubhouse at Aqueduct remained comfortingly—OK, maybe not so much—familiar; while casino money flooded into NYRA’s coffers, plans for capital improvements on the racing side will wait, we are told until fall, when we can expect, on our return to the Big A in November, to find a gorgeous simulcast center and sports bar and free Wi-Fi.
That beautiful new subway stop at Aqueduct never did materialize, so instead of a rundown, chilly subway stop just outside Aqueduct gates, we got to depart from a rundown, chilly subway stop a couple of furlongs away. Steady progress was made on the new passageway from the casino to the platform, but it remained stubbornly closed, its opening pushed back from December 2011, to March 2012 to….?
And before winter came to an end, that long-anticipated casino revenue, pumped straight into purses, became a mixed blessing, seen as contributing to the unusually high number of breakdowns. The flashy next door neighbor, initially thought to jazz up the neighborhood, began to be seen as the people that you just might not want your kids to play with.
About 13 miles away, on 7th Avenue between 31st and 34th, Madison Square Garden unveiled the first stage of its “Transformation”: new concessions, new design, new seating. The renovations will creep slowly upward, affecting my seats next year; here, too, the opening was greeted with optimistic interest…but while the subways still work and the Rangers had their best season in years, the geniuses that make up the Garden brain trust saw fit to remove all the women’s rooms on the 400 level of the arena, leaving me to walk nearly as far to the bathroom during games as I had to to get to the subway from Aqueduct. And while some of those new concessions are tempting, I’m not sure that I need a $20 lobster roll during a hockey game. Color me underwhelmed–like the new beige color scheme coating the mezzanine–about the latest new Garden.
Both hockey and horse racing faced crises of safety. At Aqueduct, 19 horses died during racing during the inner track meet; in hockey, concern about concussions became part of the daily conversation everywhere, except, maybe, in the office of the commissioner. Early on, NHL suspensions came fast and furiously; later, not so much, and throughout the season, writers and fans complained long and loud about a lack of consistency in the consequences for illegal hits, including vociferous disagreements about what, exactly, makes a hit illegal or not.
Those calling for a racing commissioner, take note: even in a league with a commissioner, in a league in which every team has no choice but to submit to his will, in a league with a common rulebook, there’s no guarantee of consistent and fair consequences. A commissioner is not a panacea.
As some in racing say that breakdowns are an inevitable part of the sport, hockey has its voices who say that fighting is a part of the game. Both may well be true, but this is certain: it’s no fun at all to go to a sporting event when you’re worried as much about an athlete getting hurt as you are interested in who’s going to win.
On Saturday, I went straight from Aqueduct to the Garden, the trusty A train speeding me there in about 40 minutes. The Lumber Guy won the Grade 2 Jerome, The Lumber Guy who has provided me with no small amount of punning amusement since he was pointed to the Wood, The Lumber Guy who’s quickly become one of my favorite horses. Alas, the Rangers didn’t come through, getting shut out on home ice, leaving me to wonder whether Saturday night was the last night that I’ll sit in my seats in section 418, where I’ve sat for a decade, before I am moved across the arena as part of the “Transformation.”
I won’t know until tonight whether my hockey season is over; no question, though, that racing’s winter season has come to an end. Aqueduct closed yesterday and live racing moves to Belmont this Friday. Spring is here, leaving, we hope, a winter of discontent literally behind us literally, and metaphorically before us.