Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Economic Reality of Aqueduct

Maybe it's the bean counter in me, but I don't think that Governor Spitzer's rumored plan to close Aqueduct is such a bad idea. At a glance, I see two under-utilized aging facilities in close proximity to each other. Both are struggling to compete for New York entertainment and gambling dollars and both need significant capital improvement. Wouldn't it make sense to spend all available resources on developing a great Belmont Park rather than splitting the limited funds and ending up with two mediocre tracks? I must admit that although I do enjoy Aqueduct (other than the Belt Parkway traffic and the way the paddock is situated), I am not a romanticist in relation to the history and I did not experience the "good old days" when both tracks were filled and Aqueduct was a premium destination.

The Saratogian had a good article providing arguments for keeping racing at Aqueduct, including:

"Adding Aqueduct's dates to Belmont's schedule would increase its number of racing days from 90-something to nearly 220....How many surfaces (dirt, turf and synthetic) would be necessary to accommodate what would become a virtual year-round schedule of competition and training?"

Now, I'm not an engineer, but I guarantee that Belmont can be reconfigured to have another track. We all know that Big Sandy is just enormous. There is a lot of room inside there for a synthetic track for winter racing while still maintaining a wide grass track and a smaller inner track replacement (if necessary). Also, why do we have to do 220 days of racing? This may be a good time to eliminate racing after Thanksgiving and before St. Patrick's Day. There was a lot of buzz last winter about the poor quality of the racing at the Big A. And don't forget the human interest stories about the brutal weather conditions for the humans and equines.

Times change. There will likely never be a time again when the business model for New York racing can sustain two tracks that are so close to each other. OTBs and ADWs have changed the paradigm and there's no going back. I like the idea of one world-class racing facility (which would be Belmont). Perhaps a training facility can be maintained at the Aqueduct site for horses to be shuttled to Belmont.

Unfortunately, none of this will make financial sense unless the OTBs have their goals aligned with the franchise holder and a nationwide deal can be reached on simulcast signals. And this evening, Republican Senate leader Joe Bruno voiced his disagreement with the Spitzer plan.

This is far from over but as a racing fan and a New York taxpayer, I'm willing to listen to every idea for making racing self-sustaining.


Anonymous said...

Great stuff and all logical . . .

There really is no reason for New York to race year-round if the horsemen and track surfaces can't support a solid winter program. There are just so many maiden claimers you can run for NY-breds before everyone's eyes glaze over. A cutback in winter days also would benefit Laurel, not that anyone cares about that but fans in Maryland.

alan said...

Et tu? :-)

I'm actually all for a reduction in winter racing, but since that's probably not going to happen....

Briefly, the annual switch from Aqueduct, with its two turn races, to Belmont, which is too freaking big, provides handicapping juice and angles that last year round; and within the racing at the Big A, with its sprints and routes. The thought of a steady parade of one-turn races at Belmont is unbearable to me.

And if you did build a mile and an eighth oval inside the turf courses, it would be so far away from the stands that it might as well be at Aqueduct.

Whatsmore, Belmont would be an empty, depressing hinterland during the winter, when the sun is positioned to shun the front of the grandstand all day long.

And that's besides all the logistical problems that would result from moving the entire downstate horse population to Belmont from Aqueduct.

And besides, I've seen you at Aqueduct, and you were having a great time!! :-D

Anonymous said...

sheesh. Whatever happened to the days of the anonymous posting?

The points about the handicapping angles from Aqu to Bel are really REALLY good. The horseplayer is never the prime consideration, except he is the whole engine behind the game. As for sightlines at Belmont, I have a pair of very nice old Bushnells but the horses are still specks on the backside at that place. I think Laurel is too big, so you can imagine how I feel about Belmont. Say hello to me at Timonium, where you can call a jockey a bum and he'll hear you on the backstretch.


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