The inner track at Aqueduct opened for business on Wednesday December 3rd, 2003. This
meeting will run for 14 weeks until the main track reopens sometime in March, weather permitting. With
the inner track’s opening this means no more seven furlong races, strictly six furlong sprints and a lot of
one mile and 70 yard races. For the most part the inner track has always been a speed favoring surface and
saving ground over this oval is very important in getting the job done. Not only must you handicap the races
as to who you think is the best horse but you must always take into account positioning near the lead and
closest to the rail. It is especially important when handicapping these races because they are much harder to
overcome on this track.
There will be a few changes this year for Aqueduct’s inner track that NYRA is implementing in hopes
that they can increase field size. The first one is that purse money will be distributed to all starters in a race.
One percent has been taken away from the third and fourth place money and will be equally distributed
among the remaining starters. The second change is the bottom level claiming price has been dropped to $7.5k
in attempts to attract some horsemen throughout the east coast. Finger Lakes and Suffolk Downs horsemen
who would normally pass up a stop on the NYRA circuit over the winter because their horses didn’t really fit
will now have the opportunity to run in New York. With Suffolk Downs closed for the winter expect to see a lot
of shippers from up north.
The NYRA racing office will also offer optional claiming races this winter in another attempt to fill the
races. Racing Secretary/Handicapper Mike Lakow said "Last year we had 600 empty stalls and this year we're
packed. These changes will help fill races with horses from New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New England.
Hopefully, horsemen will tell us what races they're looking for. All this should help us present the strongest racing
possible to our fans." With fuller fields and the variety offered in the type of races it should make for solid
betting opportunities this winter.
Looking at some of last year’s results from the jockey and trainer standings the competition will be strong
there also. Javier Castellano won last year’s jockey title but will be severely tested this year. Norberto Arroyo, who
was going to make the move down to Florida this year has decided to stay, Shaun Bridgmohan, Jorge Chavez
and Richard Migliore will all make it hard for Castellano to stay on top.
Gary Contessa, who won last year’s trainer title will also have a tough time repeating. The first problem is
that he will miss the first week of the meeting as he serves a suspension. His horses will run in assistant Frank
Amonte’s name for the first week.
Richard Dutrow Jr. who has been on fire of late and won 26 races over the inner track last year is already
off to a solid start with three winners on opening day. There will also be some new trainers on the horizon for this
meeting most notably Mark Shuman who trains for owner Michael Gill.
Shuman and Gill who dominated the Gulfstream meeting last year are now setting their sights on New York
this winter. Gill will not have his horses stabled at Aqueduct and will ship from the Elk Creek Training center near
the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, about a four-hour van ride from Aqueduct. "Mr. Gill wants to find out what
the record is for wins at a winter meet and double it," said Shuman, who went 3-3-0 from 19 starters during
Aqueduct's main track meet that ended Sunday. It is unclear however what that record is and with many of the
top trainers stabled and training over the Aqueduct inner strip Gill/Shuman might be at a disadvantage. Even
though they easily won the Gulfstream meeting it didn’t come without some controversy. There were many trainers
that were not happy by their claiming tactics and when one of their veterinarians amputated a leg from one of Gill’s
horses that broke down an investigation ensued. Gill currently has a lawsuit against Gulfstream and because of
that will not be racing there this winter. Expect to see a lot of Gill’s horses race here this winter but don’t expect
to see what happened at Gulfstream last year. This is a very tough meeting and not one to be taken lightly. Also
be careful when playing Shuman/Gill horses as they are often times overbet.
With the many new faces and many new changes implemented by the racing office to ensure what
should be a very competitive meeting on the racetrack and at the windows you almost are wishing that spring
will never come, well I did say almost.