On March 29, I had the chance to visit Aqueduct.
I was on the world’s shortest vacation to New York for a choir trip, but I had a decent swath of the day on Saturday to go visit The Big A before flying home that evening. I couldn’t stay for the entire day due to my flight (and even missed the featured Broadway Stakes, which La Verdad won in a romp!), and it was really rainy. However, when have little things like that ever stopped me from going to the track? (Answer: never.) It was exciting to finally visit my first racetrack other than Hawthorne or Arlington!
The strangest thing about Aqueduct was the paddock. I realised just how lucky I am at Hawthorne, where you don’t need any kid of special pass to get to the paddock, and can be right up within a few yards of the horses. It’s open to the public, and anyone can go in there before any and all of the races. Whereas, at Aqueduct, the paddock is far below grandstand level. There’s an area inside where people can stand and look down over the horses there, and that’s what most people did since it was so rainy outside. You can also go outside and look out over it, but it’s still like looking over a second-story balcony. If you’ve ever been to Arlington Park, it is a lot like looking over the paddock from the upstairs area. You can get a decent view of the horses, and it’s better than not doing any physical handicapping at all, but you can’t get on the same level as the horses unless you have a paddock pass. Clearly, Hawthorne has spoiled me.
With that little idiosyncrasy out of the way, though, my day at Aqueduct was a lot of fun.
I did some handicapping of the races there, though I was so pressed for time to both pick the races and try and see as much of the track as I could that I did a lot of back-of-the-envelope scribbling in my program, but no formal write-up of the picks. This was very strange, and made me realise just how accustomed I’ve grown to doing such a deep dive into any card that I watch and bet.
I came tantalizingly — though also frustratingly — close to hitting the first Pick 4 I ever bet. I’m just now dipping my toes into multi-race wagers, and have taken a few stabs at Daily Doubles and Pick 3s before. I had never even attempted a Pick 4, but I had such strong opinions on that series of races that I thought it would be fun to take a punt on a cheap ticket for the early Pick 4 and see where it went. It was for races 2-5, just a $4 ticket: 3/2,6/3,5/1,6. I liked my picks enough that I also did a $1 Daily Double with the first two legs of this, and a $1 Pick 3 with the first three.
My single, Blue Cherokee, got home in the first race of the sequence. As a lifelong Duke fan, it was embarrassing betting on (much less singling!) a horse with a dam named Carolina Blue, but he was dropping down from tougher company at Santa Anita, and working well compared to the field. Despite the fact that Emmanuel Esquivel lost the whip on the stretch, he held on to win by a length.
The second of the sequence was nerve-racking, especially since I realised I gave the clerk the wrong horses: I wanted Missile Nick (4) and Three Cents (6), not Pin and Win (2) and Three Cents. I had misread the notes in program when jotting the numbers for my ticket down — Missile Nick was my legitimate second choice, and Pin and Win was my vulnerable favourite who I wanted no part in. Missile Nick and Three Cents dueled for the first six or six and a half furlongs, which had me on pins and needles! However, I could catch my breath when my top selection, Three Cents, pulled away down the stretch to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Emmanuel Esquivel had now gotten my first two legs home; and I cashed a Daily Double for a few dollars more than I paid for that, the Pick 3, and the Pick 4 tickets combined.
In the third race, a state-bred $16,000 maiden claimer, I went with Taylornator (3) and Laguna My Way (5). Taylornator was in her second attempt at this level, but had raced in special weight company her first time out; especially in a weak field such as this was, I’m happy to give the benefit of the doubt to one who raced recently at the MSW level. Laguna My Way was a first time starter, but working decently compared to the field. I knew there were two horses I wanted nothing to do with: Signora Sofia (2) and Mini Muffin (6). At 21 and 17 starts, respectively, they were both Career Maidens™. Signora Sofia was the 2-1 morning line favourite, having hit the board at this level her last three times out, but without a class drop or a change in distance, I wasn’t putting a dime on her.
The race started out beautifully. Laguna My Way came out to an open-lengths lead, with Taylornator and Locks of Gold (2) tracking behind. However, through the far turn, Taylor Rice made a move with one of the career maidens, Signora Sofia. She was with the closing pack as the field turned for home, and had the most run left of anyone. She passed Laguna My Way down the stretch to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Laguna My Way held second, half a length in front of the third-place Taylornator. I had underestimated one big change: Signora Sofia had never raced in the slop, and it turned out she handled it wonderfully. My Pick 4 was toast, as well as my Pick 3. As one jockey with Chicago-area connections got my first two legs home, another with Chicago connections thwarted me in the third.
Of course, to add insult to injury, the final leg of that Pick 4 came in just fine. Lunar Surge (6), dropping into allowance company out of a small stakes up at Laurel, had just enough despite some bumping down the stretch to nab the frontrunning Hot Splash (5) and win by a neck. I know it’s a good move in the long run to avoid betting those 0-for-21 maidens, but that sure did sting.
Aside from the horse races, I spent a lot of time before first post just wandering the facilities. I had heard from @BklynBckstretch that there were a lot of murals around, so I wanted to see as many as I could. There were a lot of really neat looking ones, though my favourite wasn’t one of the permanent murals, or at least is one I’m afraid won’t be permanent. It was an enormous image of Samraat, Uncle Sigh, and In Trouble all coming in for that exhilaratingly close Gotham finish:
I do hope this stays past this year, just because the finish of the Gotham Stakes this year was that exciting. No matter how Samraat and Uncle Sigh do in the Derby this year, the Gotham was one of the most exciting races of the year, and this image well encapsulates how exciting horse racing can be.
I love trivia, and the wealth of information that there is to remember in order to connect horses to each other is one of the primary things that got me hooked on this sport. Because of this, I spent an inordinate amount of time gazing at the wall of Wood Memorial winners.
Sometimes, I’m amazed at the utterly useless facts I remember, and one of the pictures on the Wood Memorial wall put this in stark relief:
I couldn’t remember for the life of me that Manassa Mauler had won the Wood, much less that it was 1959 when he won. However, thanks to a series of entries in the excellent blog Colin’s Ghost, I started talking to the wall about how he had been sired by Count Turf, and his owner had been connected with Jack Dempsey’s restaurant…let’s just say I was glad I was the only one gawking at the Wood Memorial wall at the time, because I was definitely approaching “That Weirdo At The Track” territory.
Speaking of trivia, I also got pretty excited seeing this picture from 1973:
I recently read William Nack’s Secretariat. With all of the excitement about Secretariat, Sham, and the budding rivalry between the two horses, the story of Lucien Laurin’s “other” horse beating them both in the Wood Memorial was one of the most compelling parts of the book. Seeing the winners’ circle photo from this event in real life was awesome.
All in all, I’m so glad I visited Aqueduct. I wish I could have stayed for the entire day, and had more time to roam around the grounds, but that just means I have to come back to New York City again!