- Aqueduct is closed for their Xmas break until December 28, at which point NYRA is widely expected to file for bankruptcy. They haven’t always taken time off around the holidays; in fact, I recall racing on Christmas Eve with a 11 A.M. post time. Though they’ve been taking this break for a number of years now, I’m sure the original intent was not to save money by not having to pay out purses. But in 2005, the break is likely the only reason that the filing has not already taken place. Ed Fountaine at the New York Post takes a morose look at the sad situation.
Those who recall the glory days of the 1960s, when crowds of 60,000 jammed the Big A for Opening Day every March, wouldn't recognize the place today. One parking lot is off-limits behind a barricade of orange barrels after being taken over by the Port Authority. The other lots are pitted with potholes; there is no money to fix them.As usual, there were carolers spreading holiday cheer at the track (I wonder if the oversight board approved that expense), but even that couldn’t quite chase away the glum backdrop of impending insolvency that has cast a pall over the place. Merry Christmas indeed.
The fans that do attend — typically under 2,000 on a weekday, just over 3,000 on weekends — are jammed into the clubhouse, because the grandstand has been closed in anticipation of building the casino, a project that's been on hold since the second floor was gutted three summers ago. Thousands of seats in the stands sit empty, coated with pigeon droppings, never to be used again.
Morale is at rock-bottom among the track's employees, who joke darkly that NYRA stands for "No Yearly Raises Anymore." Salaries have been frozen, along with contributions to the pension fund. Cuts have been made in every department, from cleaning to customer service. They even stopped serving lunch in the press box. [NY Post]
- Gulfstream has released a tentative timeline of which of its facilities will be open and when.
• Opening day: The bottom floor of the grandstand will be open. This includes betting, six eateries and an outdoor area between the club and track with tables and chairs.And of course, following the meet will come the addition of the slot machines which are supposed to make Gulfstream’s purses more competitive. However, at least one person, Kent Stirling, the executive director of the Florida Horsemen's and Benevolent Protective Association, citing the 50% tax rate, doesn't foresee a windfall for thoroughbred purses.
Next to the grandstand will be a grassy area with several large tents. Inside will be televisions, a bar, concessions and strolling bet takers.
• Late January: Parts of the second floor will start opening. The floor has four restaurants, and each week another one will open.
• End of February: The entire second floor, including 20-table poker room, should be done.
• End of February/early March: Third floor starts opening, including luxury boxes, a room for $3,000-a-day bettors, another for $10,000-a-day bettors and another restaurant.
• April 1, Florida Derby Day: The entire grandstand should be completed. It will be four floors, with the top for racing officials, media and administrative offices. [Miami Herald]
"I don't see the slam-dunk [for purses] in Broward County as I saw before," Stirling said. "Most of the numbers I've seen at tracks have a tax rate around 40 percent. If we all sit down we might be able to do something to increase purses slightly, but I think it will be a minimal increase." [Sun-Sentinal]