Photo by Adam Coglianese/NYRA
As we approach then end of the year and head into the winter months, racing takes its customary winter break as most of the bigger outfits begin their migration south or west to the warmer climates of Florida and California.
Stakes races are run much less frequently until after the New Year, and a general melancholy permeates the racing industry during the holiday season and tough winter months. But unlike many racing fans that turn their attention to Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs or Santa Anita, I have always tended to keep my focus local. There’s something to be said about the connections and horses that stay up north for the winter and tough out the brutal conditions. It’s blue collar racing at its finest, and in my estimation, there is nowhere better to enjoy it than on the inner-track at The Big A.
I won’t lie to you; Aqueduct isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing racing facility in the United States, although they have seen the addition of the Resorts World Casino New York City. I’d also be lying if I said the racing quality was equal that of Gulfstream Park during the winter months. Add in the below-freezing temperatures on many racing days, and Aqueduct starts to look like a mortal cinch for a place casual fans should bypass during the inner-track racing season. This is the part where I tell you why you are wrong for thinking that way.
Everyone has favorites when it comes to the world of sports. Many people root for their hometown football, baseball, basketball, or hockey teams, and even pick out favorite players who they cheer for on a consistent basis. It’s human nature to have bias towards certain teams or players in sports, and racing is no different. There have been horses like Secretariat, Smarty Jones, and Barbaro who have captured the attention of the American public, while others have become favorites among racing fans everywhere. These fan favorites generally have short careers and are whisked off to the breeding shed as studs or dams, often leaving the fans feeling shortchanged or asking, “What could have been?”
Here lies the beauty of the inner-track season at the Big A. I can remember watching a horse by the name of Spooky Mulder run at Aqueduct during the winter season for what seemed like my entire life. Spooky wasn’t the fastest, he wasn’t destined for a career in the breeding shed, and he changed hands via the claim box more than most of the fields he faced had combined. But Spooky was my horse, a winter warrior who danced all the dances, whether they were small stakes races during his best years, or mid-level claiming races as his form declined over time. He was as honest as they come, left it out on the track each and every time, and always left me thinking, “Man, now THAT’S a racehorse!”
You can find these winter warriors each and every year at Aqueduct during the winter racing season. Every couple weeks they are entered back, often against one another, and give it their best effort time and time again. They are out there doing what they do best, supporting their connections, and entertaining us fans. So take some time to check out the winter racing at the Big A, pick out a few of your own winter warriors, and enjoy the show. You’ll be glad I told you to do so.
HORSES ENTER THE STRETCH ON THE INNER-TRACK AT AQUEDUCT
Photo by Adam Coglianese/NYRA