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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The More Things Change....

- Following up on the comments here - Green Mtn Punter was wondering just what was the attraction when Yonkers set its all-time handle record in the middle of December, 1969....on, as pointed out by reader Bank Check, a snowy Monday night no less!! Turns out that there were no special races or big horses that night at all; it was merely the final racing card of the year in the NYC area. Last chance to get the action in...legally anyway, with OTB not yet in existence. Aqueduct had concluded its season that afternoon, and would not resume until March 10!! (38,031 action-starved fans turned out for that opening day - a Tuesday! - to see Angel Cordero, Jr. take the first three races.)

Harness racing took a much shorter break, as racing would resume, at Roosevelt, on January 3. Still, a crowd of 24,176 (correcting the figure in my comment), with money obviously burning a hole in their pockets, wagered $3,220,686, a healthy average of over $133 per person (in 1969 dollars remember), breaking a seven-year old record. With the advent of OTB just a year or so away, the mark was never broken, and that's one record you can be damn sure will stand forever!

Carmine had two winners that night, but it was Del Insko, who took the night off, who won the driving title. No sign of Buddy Gilmour on the leading drivers list.

When racing did resume at Roosevelt less than three weeks later, it sounds from Steve Cady's account in the New York Times (Jan 4, 1970) as if the interval seemed like an eternity to the 28,042 in attendance on a Saturday night.

Swirling snow and hazardous highways early in the evening didn't keep the fans away. Cars peeled off the Meadowbrook Parkway into the raceway exit like lost sheep coming home in a storm.
The article also mentions a couple of things about that night which shows that, as they say, the more things change, the more they really don't, or something like that. One might think that issues that the industry has faced this past year or two are unique to these times, but they're most certainly not. For one thing, opening night at The Big Wheel in 1970 saw the debut of a new $1 million rubberized track which, on this night according to the Times' account, "proved to be faster, bouncier, softer, and more uniform than the old concrete-hard thermoplastic base built in 1966."
"It's a great improvement," said Del Insko..."It's not near as hard, and it's consistent. The footing seems to be the same everywhere.
Because of the thin cushion and the bouncy rubber synthetic underneath, horses were expected to "float" over the new surface. Early times in the 2:07 range bore out this expectation.
Other than the miles in 2:07, from which we've come a long way, that sounds rather familiar, doesn't it? Not sure what happened to the rubber track, but I did find a comment on one of the Roosevelt Raceway memorial sites to the effect that the surface ultimately proved to be tough physically on the horses and was eventually covered with clay. I know many thoroughbred fans who would like to see today's artificial surfaces meet a similar fate.

In addition, a new rule was instituted on that opening night.
Under the new regulation, advocated by various animal groups, drivers had to do their whipping with both hands on the reins. They could not hold the reins in one hand and reach back with the other to slash away at a tiring horse.
We recently saw that same rule instituted at Pompano Park - New to racing in North America, we were told. That's apparently not exactly the case, though the rule in 1970 doesn't seem to have gone very far.

So, while the times have certainly changed, and Roosevelt Raceway is sadly long gone, the industry is still being pressured by animal rights groups; still searching for ways to make the tracks safer and the sport more humane. I'd guess that, even in another 40 years, the industry will still be doing the same.

Oh, and here's something else that hasn't changed:
Annfrank, 8-1 five minutes before post time, dropped from 9-2 to 5-2 on the last flash and bounced home for a $7.80 payoff.
Some things indeed never change, and in at least some cases, we're certainly glad they don't!