One week of racing remains over Aqueduct’s inner track, a sure sign that spring is, in fact, upon us. It has been a fun winter at the Big A, one that I’ve had the privilege of chronicling twice weekly. Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights and lowlights of the meet by handing out some awards to those responsible for providing us with them.
Today’s column will feature the MVP’s and LVP’s of the meet. Tomorrow, we’ll follow up by naming the race of the meet, the biggest story, biggest surprise, and biggest disappointment.
MVP (Equine Division) - Inherit The Gold
Inherit the Gold is the type of horse that summarizes the inner track meet perfectly. He’s a hard knocker, who flies under-the-radar. He shows up every time. He’s not flashy, but he gets the job done.
In all, he won four races over the inner track this winter. He started his run by winning an optional claimer on December 16th. He followed that up by winning another on January 13th. Then it was time for the step-up into stakes company. He took the Mr. International in fine fashion on January 26th, scoring by three lengths over Spa City Fever. Finally, he wrapped up his superb inner track run with a two length conquest in the Kings Point, a race in which he bested, most notably, graded stakes placed Yawanna Twist.
Trained by Jim Hooper, the five year-old son of Gold Token will, undoubtedly, be forgotten as we get ready for the big races in the handicap division like the Met Mile (There’s talk of him staying for the Excelsior [G3], but it’s possible he could be shipped out for the Charles Town Classic [G3]). But he deserves his moment in the spotlight.
Honorable Mention: Calibrachoa, Stay Thirsty, Fort Hughes, Flashpoint, It's Tricky
LVP (Equine Division) - A (seemingly) 452 way tie between all those entered for a $7,500 tag this winter
Racing Secretary P.J. Campo and the hard-working folks in the racing office do as good of a job as they can with what they’re given. The intent here is not to criticize them. They cannot turn water into wine.
But some of the racing here this winter was so dreadful that it moved one writer to say; “Calling Aqueduct ‘Finger Lakes South’ is an insult to Finger Lakes.”
Exhibit A: the second race this past Saturday. It was a $7,500 claimer that, amazingly enough, was run at a mile and 70 yards. Mercifully, a number of the original entrants were scratched, leaving a field of three. Marina Market - proud owner of seven career victories from 63 starts - towered over his two opponents.
One of them was Incredible Speed - a wildly inappropriate name, given that he possesses none. A seven year-old gelding, Incredible Speed had - prior to Saturday - not finished better than 6th in any of his past ten races (that in a seven horse field). In those starts, he was beaten a combined 162¾ lengths. That changed Saturday, though, as he scored a moderately respectable second-place finish, losing to Marina Market by five.
The bronze medalist in this putrid affair was a horse by the name of Ecru Egret - an eight year-old gelding who, in his last ten starts, finished no closer to the winner than 12¾ lengths. Miraculously, that changed on Saturday. He was only beaten by nine.
The final time for this travesty: 1:45.75
Sadly, there were too many races like this during this year’s inner track meet. Here’s hoping that the completion of the racino will help improve the quality of racing next winter.
Dishonorable Mention: Every horse entered for $12,500 in a maiden claimer
MVP (Human Division) - The New York Race Fan
On December 8th, New York City OTB shut down their 50 brick-and-mortar parlors, and their ADW platform, ushering in a time of great uncertainty in New York racing. NYC OTB handled just shy of a billion dollars a year, a great percentage of that on NYRA races. How much of that would be lost as a result of the shutdown?
The answer turned out to be; not a whole lot.
NYRA was quite proactive in their attempts to retain as much of the handle as possible. They introduced a number of promotional initiatives, all of which proved to be pretty popular. They offered incentives for opening accounts on their ADW platform - NYRA Rewards. They turned the Belmont café into a simulcast center that, on its busiest days, boasted attendance numbers that rivaled actual on-track crowds from Aqueduct in previous years. They offered shuttle bus service from a number of locations around the five boroughs directly to Aqueduct.
Ultimately, though, it was on you to show up. And you did. Attendance was up over 50%, according to the most recently released data. Just under 5,000 people a day, on average, have been going through the turnstiles at the Big A this winter. A crowd of 7,114 showed up to watch Stay Thirsty capture the Gotham Stakes on March 5th. That’s an attendance figure that the New York Mets might be longing for once their pennant hopes perish - a formality that should occur sometime in May.
Couple the larger crowds with the ongoing construction, and an amazing phenomenon emerged. Lines. Lines at the windows. Lines at the concession stands. Lines everywhere. The racing experience as a whole became more communal. Unlike years past, there was no area of the track that was totally deserted. It helped make the experience more fun.
This was your meet, New York race fan. The New York Racing Association needed you to come through, and you did. Big time.
Take a bow.
Honorable Mention: The NYRA media and marketing team, Ramon Dominguez, David Cohen, Chris Englehart
LVP (Human Division) - Richard Dutrow Jr.
Richard Dutrow earned this dishonor even though he wasn’t even on the grounds this winter - a remarkable feat.
But he deserves it nonetheless.
Dutrow was handed a 90 day suspension by the stewards, the result of two drug-related infractions that were committed this past November. Since 1979, according to an open letter composed by Ed Martin - the president of the National Association of Racing Commissions - Dutrow has been cited 64 times for rules violations.
His nefarious activity has been well-chronicled. He has been punished, as Martin’s letter documents. But it is now time for racing to go one step further.
Martin, in the aforementioned letter dated February 18th, asks that Dutrow be thrown out of the sport.
He’ll find no disagreement in this space.
Dishonorable Mention: Junior Alvarado, Gary Contessa
Photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese/NYRA