It has been a long winter for everyone. Every night, the nightly news features snow storms, sliding cars and people who have had enough of the long and arctic conditions. Included in the group has to be NYRA, which continues to cancel racing cards at alarming rate. While the argument of safety can surely be made, every day with no racing is a day where no money gets into the coffers of both NYRA and New York State.
Personally, I think NYRA is too quick to cancel racing cards. We all know that nobody wants to visit the race track when temps are in the single digits, and we know that the trainers and handlers could certainly benefit from being inside rather than out. But, ever since the casino opened at the Big A, officials have become very quick—almost too quick—to cancel cards. Furthermore, they see no problem in canceling cards in advance either, so when you read on Wednesday that both Thursday and Fridays cards have canceled, it makes you wonder.
Does NYRA really care about winter racing? On paper, it seems as if they do. The Big A still offers attractive purses and a nice amount of stakes racing at the slow time of the season. But, maybe it’s more cost effective to open the casino and keep the race track closed during the winter. State law requires winter racing, but they can’t control whether or not the cards will take place.
There have been calls to end winter racing altogether. There is logic in the thinking. If they end it, they could probably close Aqueduct and extend the fall meet at Belmont and move the spring meet up there too. And, they could always extend the Saratoga meet, something that let’s be honest; they want to do. The only reason that holds them back is the tradition. If the Saratoga meet is extended, there will be howls from those that think that it could be too much of a good thing. Some might even refer to it as overexposure or exploitation.
Saratoga has a 40 day meet, but it used to be 24, then 36, so would adding 10 more days ruin the atmosphere, the tradition, the nostalgia? Thus far, the heads that run NYRA have been able to resist extending the meet, but one wonders as horse racing continues to slowly decline if they can keep holding off in doing so?
New York has three race tracks. Is that really necessary? Most states rotate their racing calendar. Maryland races at Laurel and Pimlico, California uses Del Mar and Santa Anita (and before that Hollywood Park), and Illinois utilizes Arlington and Hawthorne. Closing the Big A would not be the end of the world, but if that happens, winter racing would be in hiatus until a winterized track is installed at Belmont. And, Belmont is not the fairest of racing tracks either. It’s the only 1.5 mile oval in North America, meaning races under 1.5 miles aren’t subject to as many turns as is the case at the one mile oval at Aqueduct. If the Withers, Gotham and Wood Memorial were moved to Belmont, would more horsemen and women choose the New York root to the Kentucky Derby or would the trainers go elsewhere?
I don’t want to sound like a tough guy, one of those guys who walked to school three miles each way with just sneakers. Nobody wants to put horses (who actually prefer racing in the cold) trainers and track workers in danger by having them work in subzero temperatures, but they used to do just that. If you cede to every cold winter day, nothing would get accomplished.
Personally, I want to see Aqueduct stay open, and want to see winter racing continue. Ending winter racing would cause financial hardship for many. Sure, the best jockeys and trainers will head south to Gulfstream and west to Santa Anita, but there has to be tracks for the average to above average horse men and women to make their living. Finger Lakes Race Track races from April to early December and it’s no coincidence that many of those horses and trainers come to Aqueduct for the winter meet. The alternative is to go somewhere else like Parx or shut racing down until next April. Some can do that, but most can’t and that’s a vital reason for sustaining the winter meet at the Big A.
Maybe I’m a traditionalist but I like the way the NYRA racing season is conducted. Most fail to realize that most of the racing is contested at Aqueduct and that is the one track that gets neglected the most. The Big A races from late October through April, yet it is the facility in disrepair. Rather than try to squeeze the Big A out, why not spend the millions necessary to refurbish it to a grand state. In many ways, the casino has hurt the Big A, causing it to become more neglected than usual. We love Saratoga and most of us really like Belmont, but the Big A is just as important to New York racing as those two and in some ways more so.
I know 8 degrees is cold, but those that run NYRA were tougher back in the day. It’s important for many reasons to race and when you can, you should do so. It has become too easy to cancel because people are coming to the casino to spend their money, so the thinking is clear—they’re here so it doesn’t matter if we call off the racing card. It is my hope of course, that the weather is milder in 2016, but also that the powers that be realize that having a day with racing is a good thing. Never would I recommend endangering oneself in poor conditions, but there are plenty of people who make their living working outside 12 months of the year. When the decision is made to cancel it must be thoughtful. In the summer, when it’s over 90 degrees, the racing goes on because too much money would be lost if that card was called off. If that’s the thinking during the summer, then why not the winter, too?
Until next time.