Brooklyn News Review

Horses Return to Aqueduct as Homestretch Nears for City’s Only Racetrack

A jockey heads back to the
paddock after racing on opening day at Aqueduct Racetrack. Sept.
14, 2023.

Ben Fractenberg/THE

trumpet tune played overhead. Eight horses galloped across a dirt
track toward a starting gate as a crowd of a few dozen people,
mostly older men, sat under the unfiltered sun at a viewing deck
situated at track-level. 

Most held a
rolled-up betting guide in one hand and a cigarette in the other —
their bodies leaned slightly forward to turn their attention to the
track with one minute left to go before the first race of the fall
season commenced at the Aqueduct racetrack in Ozone Park,

“And they’re off,” a voice said through
the speaker overhead, officially bringing to a start the 28-day
fall meet called “Belmont at the Big A” in what may be one of the
last racing seasons at New York City’s only horse

While Belmont Park on Long Island is
undergoing construction, its namesake races are happening at the
Aqueduct track, already the home of a “racino” run by gambling
giant Resorts World, which is widely expected to receive one of the
three licenses for full-service casinos downstate that Albany is
expected to issue as soon as this year.

The entrance to Aqueduct
Racetrack features a giant mural, but the horses won’t be here for

Ben Fractenberg/THE

And that, in turn, is expected to roughly
coincide with the end of racing at the track that first opened in
1894. These days, the once huge “sport of kings” has become an
increasingly unpopular and unprofitable
subsidized by the state’s cut of the money
people lose to gambling at the racino.

land has been eyed as a potential place to house migrants
while community organizers dream of using it to erect
thousands of units of affordable housing
. But the land
will again be used for horse races this fall while Belmont Park,
next door to the arena that hosts the NHL’s Islanders, installs a
synthetic racing surface and a new park as part of an upgrade that
the New York Racing Association called “the most significant
racetrack construction projects in modern

People wait in line to place
bets on opening day at

Ben Fractenberg/THE

The goal is “to consolidate all downstate
racing and training activities at the new Belmont Park” once
construction is completed in 2026, according to a NYRA announcement issued days after
the state legislature passed a budget in May that included a $455
million loan to makeover Belmont Park.

When the
association completes the Long Island track’s overhaul, it will
also relinquish its state-owned lease at
and close down the track there to make way for
new developments.

“I don’t feel pleased about
that,” said 63-year-old Winston Taylor, who was at the track
Thursday, and had worked as a fisherman before immigrating to
Queens from Jamaica 29 years ago. “Belmont, they should destroy…
because it’s easier to come to the Aqueduct from the city to here.
From Brooklyn, from Queens, this is just right in the

‘Time to

Taylor, who traveled on the subway from
Canarsie to be at the Big A on opening day, also worked as a horse
breeder for four years in Jamaica. His secret to a winning horse: A
strong collarbone and a set of good feet. “These are world-cup
horses,” he added. “Not like in Jamaica. We got those horses —
they’re mules.”

His friend Christine Reeves, 56,
credited Taylor for getting her into horse-racing — though, with a
betting guide in hand, she said she only “sometimes” trusts his
judgements on what horses to bet on.

“I’m still
not fully into it,” Reeves said. “Because I don’t like the gambling
part. But I like to see what’s going on.”

Christine Reeves said she likes
the horses more than the betting.

Haidee Chu/THE

Others in the sparse crowd were also said they
were there for the horses, not the betting, including. That
included a man who sat nearby at a bench closer to the track and
declined to be named because he “snuck out of work to be here and
my wife doesn’t know.” That 55-year-old spectator and Brooklyn
native said that he’s eager to see Belmont Park

“I love Belmont because this is not
my cup of tea,” said the man, who called Aqueduct a “hardcore”
racetrack. “If you go to Belmont, even before they do the
construction, you’ll never come back … It’s all grass, trees,
televisions. You can bring the kids and grandkids. The atmosphere
is completely different.”

The man recalled that
he was 17 years old when he snuck out of high school to visit
Aqueduct for the first time, along with a friend whose father owned
horses. “And I’ve been hooked ever since,” he

He loved horses so much, he said,
that his wife and two sons gifted him 1% ownership of a horse for
his birthday last year. His face beamed with pride as he recalled
flying down to Gulfstream Park in Florida to watch his horse race —
and win.

“We went in the winner’s circle,” he
said as the horses and jockeys entered the final lap of the first
race at Aqueduct. He continued: “Thirty years of horse racing and I
never did that.”

As he spoke, patrons who had
been sitting rose from their chairs, pounding tables and flailing
their arms in the air and snapping their fingers as they encouraged
their respective horses. 

“Go, go, go,”
one man yelled. “Come on, eight,” another shouted. No. 8 (named
“​​L’Imperator”) placed  second, just behind No. 4 (“Merry
Maker”). Some betters high-fived one another while others cursed or
looked visibly deflated.

A man watches the horses on
opening day at Aqueduct.

Ben Fractenberg/THE

Wayne Lemon, 27, sat in the shade with a
neutral expression as the crowd began to settle down for the second
race. “It’s too much emotion here,” he

Lemon said he had come to
Aqueduct for the first time while he was still in college, when a
statistics professor described horse-betting as a “sport that you
can make money without losing a

He didn’t say if that advice had
borne out, but he did recall walking out of Aqueduct a few years
ago with $60,000 from a $600 bet. 

paid off my tuition, and I treated myself,” said Lemon, who wasn’t
looking forward to the end of horse races

“This is my first track, so it’s
a little shocking,” Lemon said. “But I got a lot of time to

Get THE CITY Scoop
Sign up and get the
latest stories from THE CITY delivered to your inbox each

Thank you for your submission!
Email (required)


submitting your email, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Notice. You can opt out at any time. This
site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms
of Service