Teresa Genaro is a high school English teacher and freelance turf writer whose work has appeared in a variety of turf publications. A former and erstwhile resident of Saratoga Springs, she lives in Brooklyn and writes about New York racing at Brooklyn Backstretch.
Flashback to April 2010:
Todd Pletcher brought an immensely talented colt north from Florida to win decisively the Wood Memorial, then headed to Kentucky with the Derby favorite; there were whispers that Eskendereya was maybe, finally, the horse good enough to win the Triple Crown.
The status of the casino at Aqueduct was up in the air; an operator had yet to be named, nearly a full decade after legislation had approved the installation of video lottery terminals at the Ozone Park track.
Off-track betting facilities littered New York City, while the great expanse of Belmont Park sat vacant, awaiting the return of spring training.
My, what a difference a year makes.
As I sit here on closing day at Aqueduct, this year’s Derby picture looks as muddy as the rain-drenched track in front of me. Pletcher again came to the Wood with a Derby favorite, but this year his horse lost the race, and along with it the confidence of many fans and handicappers in his ability to win the Derby.
Last September, Genting Resorts World was awarded the VLT contract, and all winter, we’ve watched the slow dismantling of the historic Aqueduct grandstand; when next we are here for racing, the evolution of Aqueduct, first opened in 1894, will be well on its way: the casino is slated to open in the late summer, and when racing returns to Aqueduct in November, horseplayers won’t be the only gamblers on the grounds.
Since December, the usually moribund Belmont Park clubhouse has buzzed with activity as NYRA opened its own off-track betting facility, re-capturing revenue lost when New York City OTB shut down.
When we’re back at Belmont in a few days, a new food court, complete with betting machines and televisions, will greet us on the third floor of the grandstand. We’ll look forward to the Matron and the Futurity at Belmont this summer, instead of in the fall; and if you can’t get to Belmont, you can wager at Aqueduct, which will be open for the first time as a year-round betting facility.
But for all of the changes on the New York racing landscape, tradition still reigns. This week we return to beautiful Belmont Park, inaugurated in 1905, anticipating the 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes. We’ll watch the Kentucky Derby on May 7th, and we’ll wonder: in five weeks, will the winner come to Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line?
We can hope, even if that hope is tempered with realism. And we’ll remember that even without a Triple Crown winner, the Belmont Stakes, the Test of the Champion, has offered no shortage of memorable moments in recent years.
Rags to Riches in 2007, beating Curlin, the first filly to win the Belmont in more than 100 years. Afleet Alex in 2005, proving himself the horse that so many thought that he was, dominating after that treacherous turn in the Preakness. Easy Goer in 1989, healing his fans’ broken hearts when he came home to New York to win. And many others, going back through the decades, the centuries, back to 1867, when the Belmont Stakes was first run.
That was at Jerome Park, and it was won by Ruthless, a filly. In the ensuing 144 years, the distance of the race has changed, its venue has changed, its conditions have changed. Its place on the racing landscape, literal and figurative, has changed, particularly since the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont came to be known as the Triple Crown series.
In 1867, the New York Times turf writer said of that first Belmont that “a splendid race home ensued,” to “a most exciting finish,” as Ruthless won by a “short neck.” Here’s hoping that, at the very least, we are treated to the same on June 11.