Similarly, the addition of a ninth race in New York this year has been translated by many of the old guard as a sure omen that the last remnants of the dignity of the sport are being sacrificed to the interests of pure business. The speedup of the day's card has been pictured by some as a program resembling nothing more than a glorified open-air slot-machine parlor. It was noted, too, that one of the most pleasant and eye-catching phases of any race—that of watching the horses come back to be unsaddled in front of the stands—was eliminated this spring at Belmont in order for the jockeys to make it back in double time to their lockers. "This was purely a case of our trying something which we later found out to be neither popular nor necessary," said John Hanes recently. "We won't continue the practice any more."
And is the ninth race necessary? "There has been both criticism and misunderstanding about the ninth race from the start," says Hanes. "First, the state did not, as many believe, ask us—or instruct us—to put on a ninth race in order that they could derive more tax income from it. We, the NYRA, asked for the extra race. New York has always been sympathetic to jumping races but experience has proven that the pari-mutuel handle is way down on them compared to the flat races. In order to maintain a proper scale of purses for the jumpers, and at the same time increase purse opportunities for our flat stakes and overnights, we needed more money—about two and a half million more, to be exact. The only way to obtain the additional revenue was to add another race."
Naturally popular with the horsemen, always seeking an extra shot at purse money, the ninth race in New York has enabled the NYRA to increase the value of its stakes by $941,375, and the increase in overnight purses has gone up some $1,102,690—for an over-all increase in purse distribution of just over $2 million. If the old guard resents this economic move they must also resent the fact that New York will never again be forced to stand aside while other tracks lure the top horses off to compete for richer purses.
The meeting which gets under way at Aqueduct on Monday (and which will run for the next 67 days) should provide the finest racing on display during any single meeting anywhere in the world. Some of the country's most important races will be contested there, including those vital weight-for-age and distance tests for which the New York fall season alone has long been noted. Of course, in the formative years of the NYRA, some confusing division of authority among the top echelons has led to a certain amount of misunderstanding and bad morale among the other ranks, and this petty squabbling has hardly improved the state of general public relations. But now, more than ever before, the trustees are fully aware of their responsibility to a sport which has been in the blood of most of them since birth. Unintentional mistakes will be made, of course, but there will be less confusion of purpose. There need never be any attempt to imitate the gaudy showmanship of the harness tracks. Instead, there should only be a rededication to sport first, business second.
Make no mistake about the present state of affairs in New York racing as you pay your visit to Aqueduct. And remember that the very same men who five years ago were being damned for their deplorable inertia—the men of The Jockey Club—should today be praised for their energy and accomplishments. Or, as one trustee of the NYRA was saying the other day without the slightest trace of modesty, "For better or worse, the NYRA saved racing in New York."
Don't laugh. It's true. And the new Aqueduct proves it.