originally published in March 2010
It was nearly 70 degrees in New York yesterday; warmer temperatures and delayed darkness have many of us thinking spring. And for New York racing fans, there is no surer sign of spring than the return at Aqueduct to the main track.
Racing on the inner track generally begins in early December, after the big stakes at the end of November—the Remsen, the Demoiselle, the Cigar Mile—have been run on the main track: the opening of the inner is the harbinger of the New York winter.
Until the early 1970’s, New York didn’t race in the winter. But as former NYRA track superintendent Joe King tells it, as off-track betting began to siphon on-track handle, NYRA made the decision to race more days each year, and that meant winter racing.
NYRA first raced year round in 1974, and then-chair of the New York Racing Association, Jack Dreyfus, asked, “What do we need to do for year-round racing?” King told him, “We need a second dirt track.” The main track was clay and soil based, and thus susceptible to damage from winter weather and freeze/thaw cycles.
King recalls the conversations. “The worst case scenario is that we’d limp through the winter with one track, and then in the spring, we’d have a beat-up, worn-out track just as prime racing season was coming up. What were we gonna do, punt?”