Oh, the real fun begins in January with winter racing. You'll know who the diehards are then. As Mark Jacobson wrote in a Feb. 22, 1999, Aqueduct feature for New York magazine:
It is unlikely that the seventeenth-century English aristocracy had Aqueduct winter racing in mind when they imported those three Arabian, Turk, and Barb stallions -- stock from which all Thoroughbreds are said to be descended. Begun in the mid-1970s to keep gambling tax dollars pumping year-round, winter racing has long provided a handy metaphor for the 50-odd-year decline of the erstwhile Sport of Kings. Indeed, with its slew of six-furlong races, its bowls of clamless clam chowder ladled out from steaming steel vats, and the same daily "faces" -- Rastas, Chinese waiters, Korean War vets on disability, etc. -- serial plunging at the $2-exacta windows, Aqueduct seems a perfect spot to divest one last grubstake before tottering off this mortal coil.Yeah, well, that's the thing that has always struck me about Aqueduct: So many of the regulars there do seem to be merely killing time before dying. It's like a well of loneliness, even among like-minded individuals there intent on betting and drinking.
According to the Aqueduct Web site: "Aqueduct opened on Sept. 27, 1894. In 1941, a new clubhouse and track offices were built. The track was torn down in 1956 and the new "Big A" opened in 1959. In 1975 the inner track was constructed to facilitate winter racing."
Anyway, back to Thanksgiving. It was suitably depressing, made even more so by the presence of holiday decorations that brought no warmth to the cavernous space. At least they're trying.
There was actually a fair number of families at the track. That's part of the idea of an early post on the holiday. Come out, watch some races, and leave by 3 p.m. for home and turkey and stuff. And get everyone out of the house while the real work gets done.
For food at the track, there's a Nathan's Famous and Sbarro. Not to mention the Hello Deli. There's a cafetria in the Man 'O War Room. And the Big A grill in the second floor clubhouse.
But! For some old-school charm, you have to visit the Equestris, the white-tablecloth restaurant that offers panoramic views of the track. You can buy six beers at a time. They'll put them in a bucket with ice. The betting windows aren't too far away. (But don't stay up here too long — the real action is downstairs alongside the track.)
I appreciate the air of sophistication put on by the tux-clad, well-coiffed maître d' and bell captain. They make you feel as if you're at 21. Given the rather seedy clientele downstairs, the desciption of the Equestris on the Aqueduct Web site is particularly hilarious:
Elegant Attire has long been a Tradition at Aqueduct Racetrack. Ladies and Gentlemen who honor this tradition are always appreciated.
Recommended Attire: Elegant
Gentlemen should wear suits or sport jackets (no shorts or abbreviated wear); Ladies should wear dresses, skirts or pantsuits.
Acceptable Attire: Business Casual
Management reserves the right to use its discretion to determine acceptable attire. Gentlemen: Collared shirts required. Suits or sports jackets optional. No shorts or abbreviated wear.
The track holds 40,000 specators. On Thanksgiving, they drew 3,200. So there were definitely places where it seemed like it was a little full.
I love the barber shop at the track. Wasn't a lot going on Thanksgiving, though. In fact, I stopped by three different times. The door was open, but the barber wasn't around. Not that I really wanted a haircut. I just like the idea of it. I got my hair cut there once. It's $7. Despite his grandfatherly appearance, the barber was rather miserable and in no mood for track history chitchat. He scolded me a few times. And he smelled like talcum powder. My hair is simple to cut. Yet he still made me look like Fred Gwynne. Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster.
Topeka John always says to bet on horses with Cat in their name. (I forget why — I just do it.)
As I noted yesterday, Aqueduct is becoming a racino, a racetrack that will include a casino (slots only), conference center and big hotel. It promises to be fancy — a business destination for yuk-yuk doofsters in pleated khakis in town for business. This place will never be the same. I understand the need to generate revenue, etc., etc. — just don't have to be happy about it.
Sorry, but I have to quote that Joe Bob Briggs article one more time:
Aqueduct is the kind of urban race track that doesn't really exist anymore in the rest of the country.
I love this place.