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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Getting Queasy at the Big A

- I was at Aqueduct for a while on Saturday. I’m starting to feel a little self-conscious now about admitting to that in public. The week before, I was at an OTB-restaurant in Queens watching some of the Donn card with some really smart guys. One of them, a friend who is aware of my sordid habits (or some of them anyway), at one point told the other ones, “Y’know, Alan goes to…..AQUEDUCT!” You should have seen the way these guys looked at me – they might as well have been told “Y’know, Alan likes to walk the streets of Beirut singing the Danish national anthem.” “REALLY??” One of them claimed that he had never been there in his life, which to me, would be like an opera lover telling me he had never been to the Met.

So I was looking around on Saturday more than I usually do, wondering what exactly I was doing there. I mean, maybe I’m just used to it, the way that NYC apartment residents eventually get accustomed to cockroaches. And yeah, a hard look showed that maybe it’s not so nice, though there are still a couple of spots in which to hide away. It’s definitely….grittier (that’s a diplomatic way of putting it, yes?) now that the grandstand population is mixed in with the clubhouse. And the extra dollar admission to the Equestris area isn’t really sufficient to keep the cruder element away.

But the main thing that I noticed was this: man, these people are old! The notion that racetrackers are an aging bunch is belied somewhat by visits to Saratoga, and even to the backyard of Belmont. But yeah, this is hardcore. I can actually see my own self aging there in the faces of others that I’ve been watching grow older year by year for the last 30 years. I pass by guys that I used to get wasted with in smoke-filled stairwells; and acknowledge them wordlessly, knowing that they’re thinking about how old I've gotten just as I am about them. The little fat kid who used to race his friends around the apron is now a big fat guy. The track stooper is still at it, and I guess he MUST have come across a winning ticket or two on the ground (or in the garbage cans) in the last three decades, otherwise he wouldn’t still be doing it, right?

Well, yes, it may not be so great there. Don't get me wrong, I’m still going to go as much as ever. I need to be at the track to be at the track; the last 2-3 weeks alone, I must have sat and stared at Formulator and Super Tote for some 50 races while sitting at home, and ended up doing nothing; whereas I have no trouble getting killed at the Big A. But it’s obvious that the attendance there is just going to continue its steady decline until all of us 3,727 regulars move on to the grand racetrack in the sky, one in which we’ll all hit the late Pick Four every single day, and leave the Big A to the seagulls and slot machines.

But perhaps Aqueduct is a good place for Gulfstream. That’s right, just pick the place up from Hallandale (leaving Stronach behind), and transport it on a giant tractor-trailer right on up to Ozone Park. A vacation destination in South Florida is no place for a track with limited outdoor viewing areas and virtually nothing in the way of green space shaded by palm trees anyway. But a spanking new building with lavish restaurants, live entertainment, simulcast facilities described by John Pricci in his open letter to Frank Stronach as “world-class,” and, yes, slots, could be perfect in Queens. It could very well attract a much younger crowd of potential new fans, and throw in a rebate program and maybe you’ll even get horseplayers who can’t presently even imagine going there for anything other than the Wood Memorial, if that. And maybe I could go there without getting funny looks.


Patrick J Patten said...

" I have no trouble getting killed at the Big A."

you have to be careful, this could be literal

Anonymous said...

...Point of Impact takes another crack at maidens on Thursday, 1 1/16 miles in Race 1 @ Santa Anita...let's see if Baffert takes those blinkers off...

t said...

I've always wondered....about three or five years ago (more less...dunno) the form changed from opening stories with the tag (Jamacia, New York) to (Ozone Park, New York). Why did this happen? Any insight, fellas?

John said...

Great piece Alan.

Alan Mann said...

Brad -

I have no insight on that whatsoever! Aqueduct has always been in Ozone Park as far as I recall. Don't remember it being transported across town on any tractor trailers. I think I would have remember that despite the days spent in the stairwells there.. Maybe the Ozone Park Tourist Board complained that they weren't getting due credit?