They’ve been trying to shut down Aqueduct Racetrack for 30 years with proposals featuring cargo terminals to convention centers and sports arenas — yet nothing’s been able to stop the races there.
But the statements of new New York Racing Association Chairman Marc Holliday last week in Bloodhorse seemed to indicate the track’s days are numbered.
It’s no secret that NYRA’s looking to rebuild Belmont Park and give it the “world-class” makeover it’s needed for about as long as people have said Aqueduct’s doomed. NYRA’s seeking $400 million to get the 21st-century grandstand it wants so it can hold the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders Cup without feeling embarrassed by antiquated surroundings.
The cost, however, would likely mean building a winter racing surface at Belmont Park, making that the year-round home of NYRA racing (with exception to summers at Saratoga), and ending racing at Aqueduct for good.
Certainly, it looks like a fait accompli, especially considering that Aqueduct’s property measures about 200 acres of prime real estate in the heart of Queens, in a city desperate for affordable housing and economic development. There’s no doubt Resorts World Casino will remain there, but as for the track and stables, they might become things of the past much sooner than later.
For the hardcore horse racing fans of New York, the last race at Aqueduct, whenever it’s run, will be a sad one.
Personally, I’ll think about the times my late father took me there when I was a kid, sneaking us in on fall and winter afternoons for the late double, as he looked to turn a couple of bucks into a small fortune.
We’d watch the races from the track apron near the black-and-white eighth pole, my head barely getting over the gate while seeing the horses rush by. We didn’t come away winners very often, but when we did, Dad would sneak me a $5 or a $10 bill from his winnings, a little token of appreciation for a good day at the track.
Cash comes and goes, but the memories live on. And hopefully Aqueduct will hang around a few more winters while NYRA figures out how to get what it needs to rebuild Belmont.
Then again, if we’ve learned nothing else, Aqueduct has been written off before, only to keep coming back for more.
Race of the Week: The Stephen Foster Stakes
Saturday, July 2
Churchill Downs, Louisville, KY
Distance: 1 1/8 Miles on dirt
TV: NBC (coverage from 4 to 6 p.m.)
The first big summer race on the road to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill Downs this Saturday features a strong field of contenders including Mandaloun.
What can you say about poor Mandaloun? He’s been in the wrong place at the right time twice in his career.
He won the May 2021 Kentucky Derby in February 2022, after the actual winner, Medina Spirit, was disqualified in the Bob Baffert drug scandal. He also benefited from another disqualification last summer in the Haskell Stakes, being placed first after Hot Rod Charlie was taken down for causing Midnight Bourbon to fall in the stretch.
Most recently, in February, the Brad Cox-trained Mandaloun finished a disappointing ninth in the Saudi Cup, the world’s richest horse race. Coming off a four month layoff and back stateside, he should be ready for a big effort against a solid group of older horses that include Olympiad, a convincing winner last out in the Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby weekend.
Two other runners are very intriguing: Americanrevolution, the New York-bred who won last year’s Cigar Mile at Aqueduct; and Last Samurai, who upset the field in the Oaklawn Handicap in Arkansas back in April.
While Americanrevolution was a disappointing fourth in the Blame Stakes last out, his first start in nearly six months, he probably needed the race to shake the rust off. Expect him to run much better in this field.
Last Samurai looked much the best in the Oaklawn Handicap, with a strong closing kick in the final furlong. Still, it looked as if he took advantage of a pace that fell apart among horses of lesser quality, and the Stephen Foster field certainly looks a bit tougher.
And there’s few things to knock about Olympiad; he’s a pro who’s run triple-digit Beyer figures in each of his last three outings. A win in the Stephen Foster certainly makes him a leading contender for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and possibly Horse of the Year honors.
Olympiad and Mandaloun will probably vie for favoritism; if you get 5-2 or better on either of them, that’s a steal. But if you want to make a few bucks off the Stephen Foster, box them in an exacta, and in a trifecta with the likes of Americanrevolution or Last Samurai.
Our picks: Olympiad, Mandaloun, Americanrevolution