Jamaica, New York 11420
Aqueduct Racetrack, known as the Big A, is a thoroughbred horse-racing facility located in the neighborhood of Ozone Park in the New York City borough of Queens.
Located near the site of a former conduit of the Brooklyn Water Works that brought water from Long Island to the Ridgewood Reservoir, Aqueduct Racetrack was opened on September 27, 1894 by the Queens County Jockey Club. The facility was expanded and a new clubhouse was constructed before the start of the summer meet in 1941. In 1955, the Greater New York Association took over the racetrack along with Belmont Park, Jamaica Racetrack, and Saratoga Race Course and decided to make major upgrades to Aqueduct, after which Jamaica Racetrack would be sold for redevelopment as a housing project. The racetrack closed in 1956 and reopened on September 14, 1959 after $33 million of renovations designed by noted racetrack architect Arthur Froehlich of the architecture firm, Arthur Froehlich and Associates of Beverly Hills, California. The Equestris Restaurant in the clubhouse opened in 1981 and was the largest restaurant in New York City at the time. Additional renovations were made in 2001, 2006 and 2007.
Before 1976, the Inner Dirt Track was a turf course and it was known as the Main Turf Course, with the lone present turf course bearing the name of the Inner Turf Course; following the conclusion of racing in 1975 the grass on the Main Turf Course was uprooted and the Inner Dirt Track took its place to permit year-round racing. (In the first few years after Aqueduct was rebuilt in 1959 the track lay idle from early November until April 1; by 1971 this period had been reduced to from shortly before Christmas until March 1, and in the latter year off-track betting began in New York City, creating a demand for horse racing to be contested in the region throughout the year).
Today a single meeting is held annually at Aqueduct; it typically begins on the last Wednesday in October and runs all the way through the first Sunday in May. Races are run on the Inner Dirt Track between the Wednesday after Thanksgiving and right before the Wood Memorial in recent years. Prior to 1977, a summer meeting was also conducted at Aqueduct, running from mid-June to the end of July. From 1963 through 1967, races normally run at Belmont Park (including the Belmont Stakes) were run at Aqueduct instead while Belmont's grandstand was being rebuilt. The Wood Memorial is currently the marque race, which culminates the winter meet. The Remsen and Cigar Mile are major races that commence the winter meet just after Thanksgiving. The prestigious Jockey Club Gold Cup was usually run there between 1958 and 1974, and what was perhaps the track's most distinctive race, the marathon 2+1/4 miles (3.6 km) Display Handicap, was last contested in 1990. The track played host to the second ever Breeders' Cup on November 2, 1985.
Aqueduct is the site of the first, and presently, the only triple dead heat for win in a stakes race. In the 1944 running of the Carter Handicap, Brownie, Bossuet, and Wait A Bit hit the finish line at the same time. On April 8, 2006, during an eleven-race program at Aqueduct that included the Wood Memorial Stakes, a rare event happened when dead heats for each of the three "money" positions (Win, Place and Show) occurred in three separate races: Saint Anddan and Criminal Mind dead-heated for Place in Race 5, Naragansett and Emotrin dead-heated for Show in Race 6, and Karakorum Tuxedo and Megatrend dead-heated for Win in Race 10.
Hall of Fame horse Cigar won the first two races in his sixteen-race win streak at Aqueduct. After switching from grass to dirt, Cigar's first win was by eighth lengths in an allowance race on October 28, 1994 and was followed by a seven length win in the NYRA Mile on November 26, 1994, a Grade 1 race that was renamed in the horse's honor in 1997. On May 31, 1965, 73,375 spectators were on hand at Aqueduct and watched Gun Bow win the Metropolitan Mile. At the time, it was the largest crowd to ever attend a thoroughbred horse racing event in New York.
Pope John Paul II said mass in front of a crowd of 75,000 at Aqueduct on October 6, 1995. Every weekend, a flea market is run in the racetrack's north parking lot, located along Rockaway Boulevard.
Proposal to Close Track
In May 2007, reports indicated that then-New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was considering closing Aqueduct and selling the 192-acre (0.78 km2) track and its stables, which currently house 400 horses, to developers when the New York Racing Association lease expired at the end of 2007. According to the reports, Belmont Park, which is 4 miles (6.4 km) east in Elmont, New York, would have become a nearly year-round track and would get the video lottery machines authorized to operate at Aqueduct. Belmont Park would have been modified to handle winter requirements which would have included heated stands and the construction of new stables. According to the plans that were discussed, the oldest and most historic track in the state, Saratoga Race Course, would have been operated by the New York Racing Association and a new entity would have operated Belmont Park. Aqueduct traditionally has been considered a track frequented by blue collar fans while Belmont Park has a more upscale reputation.
Queens Democrat councilwoman Audrey I. Phieffer, whose district includes Aqueduct, fought the closing of the historic track which she felt was important to the local community. Any closure at Aqueduct, which is equipped for the cold winter months, would have required millions of dollars in renovations at Belmont, a summer-only track. Belmont is also hampered by its north-oriented grandstand-which would cause shadows in the winter months. Belmont is one of few racecourses in the United States (Santa Anita Park and Thistledown Racecourse being the others) to be north-oriented. All others are oriented either east (or rarely west). NYRA was planning to cease all operations after completing the racing card of February 10, 2008. This was averted when a deal was reached with NYRA and New York State. To raise help raise capital, NYRA sold 325,000 square feet of vacant land near Aqueduct in June 2009. The land that was auctioned off consisted of residential lots to the west of the IND Rockaway Line.
Proposal for Racino
The New York State Legislature legalized video gambling devices at racetracks in 2001. However the opening of a racino at the track has hit various problems. Video lottery terminals similar to slot machines were approved at five locations, including Aqueduct, Finger Lakes Race Track, Monticello Raceway, Vernon Downs, and Yonkers Raceway. The revenue would be divided between the racetracks and the state and would allow tracks to increase purses and attract better quality horses in races.
In 2007, the state issued a request for proposals to operate the video lottery terminals at Aqueduct. Among the bids received was a $2 billion proposal by the Shinnecock Indian Nation to open a casino at the track. The proposal was in conjunction with Marian Ilitch, a co-owner of the Detroit Red Wings. The proposal according to most sources was dead on arrival since even if the Shinnecocks received official Bureau of Indian Affairs recognition as a tribe (which they are still awaiting), the Aqueduct Casino would still have to be approved by the New York State Legislature, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Aqueduct would have to first be taken into trust by the Department of Interior since the Shinnecocks historically had not owned property in Queens. In October 2008, the state selected the Delaware North as the winning bidder among three proposals to build a racino at Aqueduct. The 330,000 square foot facility would include 4,500 slot machines. However, these plans fell apart in March 2009 when the developer was unable to make a $370 million upfront payment to the state.
In July 2009, seven companies submitted bids to develop a racino at Aqueduct: Aqueduct Entertainment Group, Delaware North, MGM, Mohegan Sun, Penn National Gaming, SL Green Realty, and Steve Wynn. Some developers indicated that a portion of the slot machines could open as early as April 2010. However, the selection of an operator for the casino was delayed for several months because State officials frequently changed the rules and could not reach an agreement on the winning bidder, prompting Steve Wynn to pull out of the running in November. On January 29, 2010, Governor David Paterson announced that the Aqueduct Entertainment Group would run the casino.
Aqueduct Entertainment Group partners included GreenStar Services Corporation, Turner Construction Company, Levine Builders, The Darman Group, Empowerment Development Corporation, Navegante Group, PS&S Design, Siemens AG and Clairvest Group. The appointment generated controversy because of charges that AEG, which had the worst initial bid of those bidding, was allowed to change its bid so that it had the best. Paterson was reported to have demanded that the ownership of an affirmative action component. During this time singer Jay-Z, through his company Gain Global Investments Network LLC, then got a 7 percent ownership of AEG and charges were made that Jay-Z and Paterson had a personal relationship. U.S. prosecutors investigated the bidding process particularly in the light that AEG won the bid two days after Queens megachurch pastor Floyd Flake (who is also an AEG investor) threatened to switch his support in the 2010 governor race from Paterson to Andrew Cuomo. New York house speaker Sheldon Silver also threatened not to sign off on the deal. Paterson maintained there was no quid pro quo. On March 9, 2010 Paterson, Flake, and Jay-Z withdrew from further involvement. Paterson said he was recusing himself on the advice of his lawyers. Flake, who had 0.6 percent share said the case was distracting from his other projects. On March 11, 2010, the state withdrew its support for the AEG bid and announced that a new group would be selected through an "expedited, transparent, apolitical and publicly accountable process."
Aqueduct is the only racetrack located within New York City limits, and houses the New York Racing Association's headquarters. The track has seating capacity of 17,000 but total capacity of 90,000.
The track itself has three courses: the Main Track (dirt) has a circumference of 1+1/8 miles (1.8 km); inside of this is the Inner Dirt Track (consisting of a special type of dirt over which races are run during the winter months), which is exactly 1 mile (1.6 km) long; and the innermost course is a turf (grass) course, spanning 7 furlongs plus 43 feet (1.4 km). A straightaway chute leads on to the backstretch of the Main Track and permits races on the dirt up to 1 mile (1.6 km) long to be run with one turn. The turf course has a diagonal chute that permits races up to 1+1/8 miles (1.8 km) long to be run with two turns. Oddly, the stretch on the Inner Dirt Track—1,174 feet (358 m)—is longer than the stretch on the Main Track—1,153 feet (351 m)—due to the structure of the turns.
The track has its own station—Aqueduct Racetrack station—on the New York City Subway, served by the IND Rockaway Line (A) train. It is only open from 11 am to 7 pm on days when the track is open. However, it is also the system's only single direction station, with a single side platform on the Manhattan-bound side, requiring southbound travelers to exit at Aqueduct–North Conduit Avenue station, which is located a few blocks to the south. NYRA also operates a free shuttle bus between the North Conduit Avenue station and the Clubhouse entrance.
Buses on the Q7, Q11, Q37 routes pass nearby.
- In Lucky Number Slevin in the beginning of the movie the father and son are at Aqueduct Racetrack.
- There is a scene with Aqueduct Racetrack in the movie A Bronx Tale.
- A scene from A Shock to the System was filmed in the old Aqueduct Raceway Station.
- Felix and Oscar in an episode of "The Odd Couple" go to Aqueduct.