There’s nothing quite like spending a blustery February day at Aqueduct, and by nothing, I mean nothing except for perhaps heading to a walk-in cooler at your nearest restaurant and shutting yourself inside. But inside with some awesome horses! Today we hopped on the Crazy Train (that’s a colloquial term for the A train) and went out to the track. Aqueduct’s lonely train platform is a lot more crowded these days; the blinking, beeping, soul-sucking (I mean this in the nicest possible way) casino that replaced Aqueduct’s crumbling old grandstand attracts crowds that the horses haven’t been bringing out to Queens for decades, and do not get in Grandma’s way when she is trying to be first through the turnstiles on the way out of the station! She will run your butt over! Sing it with me now: “The slots, the slots are calling…”
The plus side to the casino is that there is actually decent food to eat at the racetrack now, and the cream-cheese frosted brownie and the Starbucks coffee, liberally laced with actual half-and-half, may not have been the healthiest lunch option, but it’s a cut above the old “death before Sbarro’s” racetrack diet I used to be on. I was really tired of leaving the racetrack at five thirty with a headache from not eating all day!
It was an interesting day of races. There was one feature, the Busher, for three-year-old fillies, and then everything from $7500 claimers to starter allowances. The weather went from sunny to snow flurries, back to sunny, back to snow, all with a gale of a wind that would whip up from the south and blow sand in your face. It’s been a while since I had the grit of Aqueduct track between my teeth; today I tasted that dirt once again. Happily, it wasn’t because my entire face had just been ground into it while a horse tried to convince me to let go of the reins. Change is good.
There were a lot of favorites from big trainers, and the idea of the day was to try and find the sleeper horse that might come out of nowhere and surprise everyone. But they were few and far between. Every race seemed to have five favorites and two long-shots that were such long-shots not even I was going to mess with them. We did manage to get a first and a second with some slightly-better-than-even-money horses, but all in all it wasn’t a betting day. It was an enjoy the nice horses day.
Often one will just walk into the paddock that really catches my eye. The second So Scott, the dark bay pictured above, came down the ramp, I said “Oh I want him!” Yeah, he won his race. Look at the cheerful expression and that pretty body!
Stud Muffin was in that race also. This horse came out looking like a show jumper, in full leg wraps and a dress sheet. (Public service announcement for all grooms: dress sheets and coolers have tail cords for a reason. If you use the tail cord, the rug will not end up over the horse’s ears from the wind, and you will not have a spooky horse with a rug over its ears. PSA out.) Anyway, Stud Muffin gets claimed every two races or so. He’s had like six owners in the past year. I feel kind of bad for him, but he keeps winning or placing, and he seems like he’s happy with his job, so I suppose he keeps going to barns that keep him in carrots, and that’s probably all he’s looking for.
I included the picture of Stud Muffin, not just because he’s beautiful of course, but because he is a nice reminder that large-boned Thoroughbreds are still bred, and it’s silly to argue that “all Thoroughbreds are being bred spindly-legged” and so forth! Thoroughbreds come in ALL shapes and sizes. In fact I saw one today, Lucky’s Dream, that was the spitting image of my first horse, a rugged Foundation-style Quarter Horse. It looked like someone had accidentally sent a cowhorse into the paddock. He was first out of the gate and finished second in a six-furlong race.
A few random shots:
The track vet is always watching the horses, from the paddock to the starting gate to after the race, looking for signs of trouble. Here she is watching them come back from a race.
There were beautiful clouds passing through and occasional little bursts of snow flurries. Here is one of my favorite clouds, almost on par with the gorgeous thunderclouds that pass over Florida all summer long:
Only the very rugged can survive running their horses all winter long on the frost-free inner track at Aqueduct; I was reminded of this several times when old friends and trainers came up to say hello and ask after us! I only made it through the end of December, after all, before I was just too frozen to put my feet in the stirrup irons any longer. I’d much rather spend my winters at Gulfstream or Tampa, but it’s nice to have Aqueduct here as a little get-away from the city, all winter long.