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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tale of Two Tracks

OK, I'm back, will try to keep up better.  Been busy with life and work, and been writing a semi-regular feature for the latter called Today in Racing over at the TimeformUS blog.

We were also in Florida last week.  Visited my daughter in school in Miami and then we drove across the state to my mom's place near Sarasota, where we hung in mid-80's temperatures for a few days, nice!  On the way, we stopped at Gulfstream Park.  It was the first time I was there since the real Gulfstream was razed and replaced by order of Frank Stronach, and I wrote about that, as well as the late Paul Moran, in a Today in Racing post last week.  As I'm sure I've mentioned numerous times, Gulfstream held a special place in my heart; I'd say that only Saratoga ranks higher in my esteem, and that only because it's Saratoga.  Made regular trips there way way back in the day, and then, after an absence of about ten years, made annual pilgrimages up until its final year in 2004 (Cyndi Lauper was the last of the backyard concerts I was there for)

But I swear, I really did go back with an open mind.  It's been nearly a decade now, and I was in the mood for a little racing action in the middle of a non-racing trip.  The first sign of trouble was when we happened upon the paddock.  I always thought it looked kinda cool and classy on TV, but I found it contrived and tacky, and not because it's located in the middle of a shopping center, Frank's ploy to attract ordinary citizens to come and play the slots, oh, I mean, horses.  The black rubber "walking ring" didn't help.  The highlight was seeing Serling's mug on the big simulcast screen overhead!

It really didn't get better from there once we went out front.  I know people who like the place.  None of them had ever been to the original, so they don't have perfection to compare it with, as I do.  So I know they simply can't relate to my experience.  But I can't really understand how anyone could think it's a good track to go to, unless you prefer to watch all the races on TV, in which case the simulcast room seemed like a lively place.  Precisely as I'd read, there are very few places where you can really see the races.  The apron is so narrow, constricted in length, and close to the racetrack surface (the Head Chef was excited that she was so close to the starting gate) that you're practically watching a head-on shot for most of the stretch run.  I guess if you nab one of the small number of seats, it could be OK for the day, but it's still not a great perspective.

Worse yet, and maybe because it's not yet the prime winter racing season, it was just glum and depressing.  It was pretty empty outside on a perfect weather day.  The beach bar area was closed - it looks like it could be cool, as long as you're just watching races on TV.  The racing was dull; a full card of Florida-bred stakes races, which made me better appreciate NY-bred races.  (Though maybe the action picked up, as I only lasted about an hour.)  I was reminded for some reason of a mid-1970's visit to Buffalo Raceway, which was the last time I was so profoundly depressed by a racetrack visit.  And I snapped at the Head Chef when she dared to suggest that it wasn't so bad.

When I posted on Twitter from the sad scene, Pete Fornatale, writing a column these days on handicapping contests for our good friends at the Daily Racing Form, responded: Am I exaggerating to say imagine if they replaced Saratoga with Aqueduct?  To which I responded that that was an insult to Aqueduct, where at least there's an entire clubhouse devoted to racing, and an apron from which you can actually watch the races, even on the casino side.

I've been to the Big A three times already since it opened for the big fall-winter-spring meet (it's all one

big meet to me), and hardly a surprise I'm sure when I report that there is next to nothing new to report on its physical condition.  Looks like they might have improved the lighting on the first floor.  The second floor is now completely sealed off from the racino.  And, towards the back of that second floor.....where the Longshots bar/simulcast spot is supposed to be built, it's sealed off and quiet; no sign of construction.  Signs for the old haunting spots that used to be there are poignant reminders of better days, even the ones of recent years when they showed the signs of wear, tear, and neglect.

The last I heard regarding completion of Longshots is some indefinite date in 2014, but even that is starting to feel like a longshot.  Surely wouldn't be a surprise if it's never built given the uncertainty over Aqueduct's future.  I would think that the great governor of our state, and the master of the New York Racing Association, could use his office and influence to help persuade a company seeking a casino license from the state to do us this one favor; just this one little itty bitty thing for the racetrack which they pledged so sincerely to be a good neighbor to.  C'mon, guys.  Please?

Well, the racing has been consistently fabulous, anyway.  Full, competitive fields, and the turf course holding up great as we move into late November, handling three or four races a day.  Great stuff.

And the first floor is actually about to get a makeover of sorts, in the form of 'street art' murals to be painted on the walls.  Aqueduct Murals opens to the public on Saturday.  What that means for anyone attending the races between now and then, I'm not sure, and I don't intend to find out.  There's a reception from 6 until 10 that evening, and it sure would have been nice if it could have been held at a cool new bar at the back of the second floor.

 - Jeff Gural has already broken ground on an expansion at Tioga Downs, one which be even expand-ier should his track get a casino license.  Gural bristled at a potential competing bid in the immediate area: “I put a lot of time, effort and money into getting Proposition 1 passed."  Well, for one thing, I don't think he really did.  More significantly, Gural's indignation and sense of entitlement hints at the backroom quid pro quo between the NYGA and the state with respect to the former not opposing the referendum that we all suspect.


ljk said...

I completely agree about Gulfstream. People who like it have never been to the original. Even if you buy one of the 3000 seats facing the track, you have to walk through the restaurant to get to a betting window.

I've always felt that if someone with vision and lots of dollars could renovate Hialeah, and do a boutique 24-36 day meeting in Feb-March,it would crush Gulfstream. I'd bet they could get in the Breeder's Cup rotation (if there is one) too.

Frank was talking about an expansion with a grandstand, hotel, and 52,000 seats. Any sign of construction? I think the idea was to attract the Breeder's Cup. Hard to imagine with only 3000 seats on the finish line.

Figless said...

BC Should purchase Hialeah with this exact purpose in mind, renovate with lights and make the permanent home of the BC, while also hosting a short annual winter meet. There are enough horses to go around that time of year, especially turf horses.

Anonymous said...

You figure the BC has a spare $100 million knocking around to put into a place, that's hardly in a great spot logistically, to use sporadically?

I love Hialeah as much as anybody, and feel very fortunate to have spent some quality time there years ago, but this idea is on par with the one about running the BC at Saratoga. Both are beautiful dreams, but also wildly unrealistic.

El Angelo said...

Your post shows one of the great attributes of racing - different strokes for different folks. Personally, I wouldn't miss Aqueduct at all if the place was torn down and find the racing outside of Thanksgiving week to be unwatchable because it's cheap and uninteresting. But I'm in the minority. And that's great and fine. There's types, classes and styles of horse racing for everyone.

August Song said...

Why would Genting spend it's money constructing Longshots, as it had promised to do, (and was legally bound to do, wasn't it, when it was given the casino contract?), when Cuomo the Corrupt has already dictated that he wants Aqueduct Racetrack closed?

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies."

Groucho Marx