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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Big Wheel

- This photo of the great pacer Albatross winning the Messenger Stakes at Roosevelt Raceway in 1970 is one of many amazing photographs on an awesome website I ran across at Roosevelt, sometimes referred to as the Big Wheel, was where I started my inglorious handicapping career oh so many years ago. It didn’t matter that the betting age in NY at the time was 21, and I was 15 or 16, looked like I was around 9; I was never questioned by a teller once (I hope Eliot Spitzer isn't reading this). For any of you who may have grown up on Long Island in the 60s or 70s, perhaps you recall the crowds that jammed the track in Westbury, Long Island. Crowds of 40,000 or more would turn out for big races such as the one pictured above, sometimes over 50,000 for the Roosevelt International Trot, which would attract top trotters from all over the world; routine weeknight crowds would be around 15,000 when I went, not much less than an entire week of Aqueduct now. If you were there you may recall the admission tokens, the Cloud Casino....well, I could go on for quite some time.

I’m in this picture here for sure somewhere, I remember the race; the French trotter Ideal du Gazeau, winning the International in 1982. Even though it’s still a big crowd, the decline in attendance was already well under way; OTB, the Meadowlands, and a scandal involving superfecta bets were all damaging blows. The track closed its doors for good in 1988.

Anyway, those of you who were at Roosevelt are probably already off at that site, and the rest of you should check it out, if for no other reason than just to see all the people that were there, that came out to see live horse racing, braving halting traffic jams and waiting race after race on interminably long betting lines clouded in cigarette and cigar smoke, and then long cashing lines if you were lucky enough to win. And this wasn’t really that long ago in the scheme of things! I mean, people just don’t really change all that much! How many thousands of years has the human race existed and what about people has changed? Certainly not the way we treat each other, we still lie, cheat, rob, fight and kill each other in the most barbaric ways imaginable over money and God, so I don’t think that in 20 or 30 years, people have changed so much that they can no longer be enticed to go out and bet on horses running or trotting around a racetrack. They do it in Hot Springs and in Saratoga now. I know it’s never going to be like Roosevelt was since you don’t have to leave your house anymore, but there’s got to be a way to do better, especially since racetracks are so much more pleasant to attend when they were when people actually attended. What that way is, I don’t know, and the answer will have to wait until at least after the last two at Delta Downs.

Thanks to Mike at Roosevelt Raceway Videos for letting me use the photos; he has all kinds of DVDs with old RR races for sale, check it out.

-Another site devoted to Roosevelt, if you’re so inclined, check out the emails, a lot of interesting and enjoyable reminiscing: