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Deep freeze – literally and figuratively


By Shawn Rychling

Here we are in the deep freeze – both literally and figuratively.

The literal is an easy one. Just take a look outside as the Northeast was buried in close to a foot of snow on Thursday followed by a mass of frigid air setting up over the area. High temperatures in Ozone Park, New York – home of Aqueduct Racetrack – are forecast to be 15 on Friday, 12 on Saturday and 14 on Sunday with wind chills below zero the first two days and in single digits on Sunday.

With that forecast in front of them, NYRA officials cancelled not only Thursday’s card when they woke up to snow, but also nixed the entire weekend of racing.

And that is where the figurative deep freeze comes in. New York horseplayers have been frozen out of even placing bets on races for the better part of two weeks. Since the pre-Christmas Eve card on Saturday, Dec. 23, NYRA has cancelled seven full cards and two-thirds of an eighth racing day. When Aqueduct reopens for business next Thursday, Jan. 11, NYRA will have run only 12 races over the previous 18 days. That isn’t good for business since horseplayers will put their money into other tracks.

Since the opening of Aqueduct on Nov. 3, NYRA has cancelled all or part of nine racing days.  And we are still in the first week of January!

This colder than normal winter so brings us to a debate that seems ongoing.  Should we be racing in the winter in New York?

When year round racing at Aqueduct began in 1975 it almost seems that the winters were a little less severe. The past several years have been more brutal. In 2015, Aqueduct was forced to cancel 15 race cards from January-March.  And with more racing in Florida – in the form of longer seasons at Tampa and Gulfstream – and more winter racing in the gentler climate areas of the mid-Atlantic region, trainers and owners may have more options for racing their horses.  Maybe NYRA needs to re-think its winter schedule.

When Aqueduct has raced the cards have usually been restricted to eight races with barely seven betting interests per race. And we see depleted stables running horses back within a week or 10 days, which is much quicker than the rest of the year.

Another big negative was cancellation of the Damon Runyon and Jerome stakes races last week.  Both looked to have talented fields and were good betting races. Let’s hope they are rescheduled.

A possible idea for the winter schedule for NYRA:  Why not shut down say from mid-December until mid-February with a big Presidents’ Day weekend card to re-open things.  The weather is nicer by then. And then have 4-day race weeks until Belmont opens the first week in May.  Or, NYRA could run 3-day weeks of Friday-Sunday cards from December through to Presidents’ Day and at least give bettors some more options since field sizes should increase.

In any event, let’s hope the cold moderates by next week and we are back on track at Aqueduct.  In the meantime, good luck with Florida racing!

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