The Aqueduct inner track, the host of New York winter racing since 1975, is no more. The era of the inner track is officially over.
For horseplayers who never liked the inner track, this significant change in New York racing comes as welcome news. For others who came to know and love handicapping the inner track down through the years, however, this winter’s Aqueduct meet will be a sad time, as well as a time of handicapping transition.
All dirt racing at Aqueduct, starting this season from November through April, will be conducted on the outer track. The main track, which formerly only hosted abbreviated fall and spring meets in November and April, has been resurfaced with a new “winterized” limestone base similar to the year-round Belmont training track. This extensive renovation will allow racing to remain on the Aqueduct main track all winter long.
For handicappers, what this means is that you not only need to toss out the past trends from the inner track, you will also need to throw out everything you know about the main track as well. The inner track is gone and the main track is brand new and past records and/or handicapping trends relating to both are irrelevant.
Aqueduct horseplayers will also need to learn completely new turf handicapping trends, as well.
In the space where the inner dirt track used to be, Aqueduct has installed a brand new second one-mile turf course to go along with its existing seven-furlong turf course.
In the past, the configuration of Aqueduct was a 1 1/8-mile main track with a mile chute and a winterized one-mile inner dirt track inside the main track. Inside of the two dirt tracks was where the turf course was — an under-utilized seven-furlong layout that didn’t accommodate turf sprints. The new Aqueduct turf course will be able to accommodate three different rail settings and now will be able to conduct turf sprints.
“Having a second turf course at our disposal will give us the capability of running an additional turf race or two a day, which will help our racing product in the months of November and April,” said New York Racing Associatopn racing secretary Martin Panza. “It’s a brand-new course. The capability is there to run new distances on the turf at Aqueduct, which we haven’t been able to do before.”
Winter racing in New York is essentially a scaled-down, yet very bettable, version of NYRA’s racing schedule without all the bells and whistles of graded stakes and turf racing. The race cards after early December become dirt-only affairs, as turf racing migrates south and west for the winter until turf reopens at Aqueduct in April.
Formerly what you were left with on the Aqueduct inner track were dirt sprints, which basically all had to be carded at 6 furlongs due to the track layout that made longer sprints impossible. Dirt routes mostly were conducted at 1 mile & 70 yards and 1 1/16-miles, with occasional one-mile and 1 1/8-mile races sprinkled into the mix. Two-turn flat mile races were difficult due to a short run into the first turn.
With races being run all winter on the Aqueduct’s main track layout, however, the old track configuration problems are gone. A wider array of races are available to be run on the Aqueduct main track, namely 6 ½-furlong and 7-furlong races and one-mile races that can now be carded and run out of a chute around one turn all winter long. This change cannot be underestimated, especially for the longer sprint-specializing horses that formerly used to have to be shoehorned into shorter sprints all winter long, by necessity.
Horses specializing in 6 ½-furlong and 7-furlong races who had been losing winter after winter on the inner track can now stay in New York and run at their preferred distances on the main track. The same is true for one-turn mile lovers who were accommodated at other times of the year in New York, but were then forced to switch to two turns only for the Aqueduct inner track meet.
The Aqueduct meet that includes sprints at distances other than 6 furlongs is pretty much welcomed by everyone. The consolidation of dirt racing to a single year-round surface will allow the racing office to card races at consistent distances throughout the year.
The new surface also figures to be quicker.
The Aqueduct main track as we’ve always known it has been regarded as deep and cuppy. Horsemen, who are training over the new surface, have already noted the new winterized limestone composition will play a lot faster.
Initial feedback from horsemen on the main track has been positive.
“It looks good right now,” said Rudy Rodriguez, a former jockey turned trainer, who still gets aboard his own horses in the morning. “I think the more horses that train on it, it’s just going to get better and better. It’s got to break in.”
“I was very pleased with it,” trainer Linda Rice said. “It’s a little fast right now but it’s in good condition. I’d rather have a fast track than one that’s deep and cuppy. That track is in terrific shape.”
Aqueduct will be the home of New York winter racing for six months from now until the end of April, but, unlike before when Aqueduct was actually three different meets (Fall, Inner Track and Spring), the new meet will be one long continuous Big A meet.
Watch as new trends and angles develop, and enjoy what figures to be a much-improved New York winter racing product.
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.