By MICHAEL GARETH JOHNSON
Jockeys and horses will have two newly renovated turf courses to run on at Aqueduct Racetrack when the meet begins on Friday, Nov. 2. During the past six months, NYRA crews have been working to improve the track’s inner turf course, making it similar in design to the outer turf course that was installed last year.
Renovations of the new inner course include the installation of a new sand-drainage layer, upgraded irrigation system and new Kentucky Bluegrass sod.
“These improvements are significant and will allow NYRA to card additional races over the inner turf throughout the fall and spring,” said Glen Kozak, NYRA vice president of Facilities & Racing Surfaces. “The modernized irrigation and drainage systems will add consistency to the surface and will allow the course to recover much more quickly than in the past. Jockeys, as well as horsemen and horsewomen, can look forward to a completely renovated second turf course when racing returns to Aqueduct on Nov. 2.”
Making the two turf courses more consistent also has the added benefit of making the track safer both for horses and jockeys. Industry experts believe racing and training horses on tracks that don’t have much variation reduces injuries. This is a key component of the Maintenance Quality System (MQS)—a process put into place under the guidance of Dr. Mick Peterson, executive director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory. All three of NYRA’s tracks—Aqueduct, Saratoga and Belmont—participate in MQS, which includes extensive testing of the surface using ground-penetrating radar and other tools.
The new outer turf surface, which was introduced in the Fall of 2017, was praised by jockeys and trainers, who said they are excited about most recent upgrade.
“I thought they did a great job with the turf they put in last year, and they’re doing the same thing for the inside, so it’ll be great,” said John Velazquez, Hall of Fame jockey and chairman of the Jockey’s Guild.
“[The outer turf] was very consistent and very good. It’ll be much better to have the new one inside, as well,” he added.
History Of Aqueduct
Aqueduct Racetrack opened on Sept. 27, 1894, on property that belonged to the old Brooklyn Water Works, which was home to a conduit that brought water to New York City from the vast Hempstead Plain.
Also known as the Big A, Aqueduct is the only racetrack in New York City, occupying 210 acres in South Ozone Park.
Through the years, the Big A has been the scene of some of racing’s landmark events, including the only triple dead heat in stakes history when Brownie, Bossuet and Wait a Bit hit the wire as one in the Carter Handicap on June 10, 1944. Man o’ War, Sword Dancer, Kelso, Buckpasser, Dr. Fager, Secretariat, Forego, Easy Goer and Smarty Jones built their legends at Aqueduct.
From 1955 to 1959, Aqueduct was rebuilt at a cost of $34.5 million. With a new grandstand, racing strip, barns and accessory buildings, the new Aqueduct opened on Sept. 14, 1959, to a crowd of 42,473 and rave reviews as the most up-to-date racing facility in North America. From 1963 to 1968, during the reconstruction of Belmont Park, Aqueduct was the site of the Belmont Stakes.
In 1975, Aqueduct opened its winterized one-mile inner dirt track on the former site of the inner turf course. On Oct. 11, 1981, it unveiled one of the largest restaurants in New York City, the multitiered Equestris.