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Nov 22, 2013

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD

By: JOE GIRARDI


               I have been going to the racetrack since I was four years old at least that’s as far back as I remember it. I loved horse racing from the very beginning, the horses, the jockeys, the trainers, the betting, everything about the racetrack was fun and exciting to me. I can remember waiting for the weekends to come, I would go to the racetrack with my parents, the harness track on Friday and Saturday nights and then the flats over the weekend. Roosevelt Raceway was a great place to be, it was at night, it was exciting, it was great racing and just a great time. All of that came to an end in July of 1988.

               The reason I mention Roosevelt Raceway in this article is because I see some very similar things going on at Aqueduct. Roosevelt Raceway’s property was sold for huge profits in some shady deals that went on around that time. They ran place into the ground and then said we can’t make any money so it was sold and developed. Goodbye Roosevelt Raceway. Now moving on to Aqueduct’s state of affairs. I have been there at least 6 times since it has opened on November 1st. Since the Casino opened a few years ago, Aqueduct is now half a track. There aren’t many places to stay to get comfortable but it is manageable if you want to go to live racing. I was there again today, 11/21/13. I watched the first few races outside and it was very irritating that you cannot here the call of the race when you are outside. If you go inside, you can barely hear the call as well unless you stand underneath a television. This is not something new, NYRA had to know about this, it is a disgrace, something you would expect from low level racetrack, not from what is supposed to be the tops in the country.

               The facility is run down, there has been some maintenance done but the plant needs a major overhauling. There are pigeon droppings everywhere. The box seat area that is open to the public and the horsemen is dirty, there are mismatched seats, which are not in good shape, nothing appealing at it all. There are some big races coming up over the next week or so, horses shipping in from all over the country to run in the Cigar Mile, a big race for horses trying to win year end awards, trying to increase their horses value as a stallion. It is an embarrassment, you have a casino 50 feet away that is breaking records every day as top earners yet the racetrack is in a shambles.

               I also saw that with the opening of Aqueduct there is a new toteboard. Not sure who made the decision about this toteboard but it is another poor decision. The races are shown in the middle of the toteboard with odds on both sides of the screen showing the races. The top four horses in running order are right next to the odds as well sometimes causing come confusion for customers as seen today and previous days. They don’t show the pool totals for win, place or show for each horse with this new toteboard. It is amazing to me that this goes on at a major New York racetrack.

               At the end of Belmont there were some changes that were beginning to be implemented. In the huge grandstand of Belmont, management was putting up chains with a sign that said section closed to sit outside in the seats. Most of the time, those signs were taken down and the customers went to sit in those seats anyway. However, with the six months off I dread what changes will be in place when Belmont re-opens. NYRA held a public forum at the end of August and there were some questions posed to management with some of the concerns that the public had. One question that was asked about what can you do to make Belmont more fan friendly. Christopher Kay, NYRA President and CEO answered that question. He said that they would move in the boundaries as to where you can sit thereby giving you that “community” “family” feel you get at Saratoga. He said that at Saratoga, invariably you can be right by someone that is cheering and that is a good thing. Well sure it is a good thing, but what management doesn’t seem to understand is that Saratoga crowds are different from Belmont crowds, Aqueduct crowds are different from Saratoga and Belmont crowds, you can never get the same feeling like you do at Saratoga. All you are going to do is make the loyal customers that have been going to the racetrack for a long time mad. Why not try and cultivate new customers instead of making the area they can sit in smaller thereby giving you the illusion that there are more people. It boggles my mind every time I hear some of the ideas that have been put out there. There is so much more to say but it will have to wait for another day. Good luck at the races and let’s hope New York racing can bounce back and weather these changes, that are not for the better or the bettor!



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