(photos by Ayala Gazit)
The seagulls squawked indignantly as the horses pounded down the muddy oval towards them. Obligingly, they lifted their wings and soared into the air, alighting on the rail to cock eyes at the graceful animals just crossing the wire. I sighed and shoved my hands into my pockets, my breath misting in the cold, rainy December air.
My only luck in this last race at Aqueduct was the fact that I had chosen not to bet on it. The field of two-year-old maidens going seven furlongs consisted of several astonishingly well-bred juveniles, making my decision hard. Shadwell Farms’ Elnaawi was by classic winner Street Sense out of Pilfer, dam of grade I winner to Honor and Serve; Kid Lightning is a half-brother to champion two-year-old Stevie Wonderboy; and Souper Funny is out of grade I winner Zoftig. My eventual choice was the Stormy Atlantic colt Kenalantic, who finished up the track in the mud, coming in second-to-last. The winner was Mudflats, a Tapit gelding under the Gainesway umbrella.
As I shivered, I glanced over at the Resorts World Casino. Checking the time until the next race, I decided to check out the site that had put the “-ino” in Aqueduct’s “racino.” My photographer cousin, who was accompanying me for the ride, obliged, having already taken fabulous shots of the gray Queens day. After it opened in 2011, the casino served to bring in hundreds of millions from slots and had put Aqueduct back on the non-racing map. Curious, I asked a nearby track employee if Aqueduct workers ever went over to Resorts World or vice-versa. Did the two organizations ever cross-promotional marketing? He shook his head and told me that the two remained completely separate.
We strolled up the ramp connecting the first floor of Aqueduct’s clubhouse to the casino. Halfway up, gray carpeting turned into rich green. Neon lights from slot machines and signs blared promises of instant wealth, while security guards in buttoned-down blue shirts patrolled the premises. I approached one guard and asked her the same question I had asked of the Aqueduct employee: Did the casino folks ever go over to Aqueduct? She admitted they didn’t, but told me to go over to Aqueduct if I wanted more information.
The situation reminded me of an old Friends episode. When Joey, the dimwitted actor played by Matt LeBlanc, gets a job at the museum where his friend, Ross, works, he finds that the “white coats”—the scientists—and the tour guides—the “blue blazers”—sit in separate parts of the cafeteria. This “segregation” went on for most of the episode, despite there being no apparent reason for it.
I would understand the employees’ reasoning for not crossing over during the day, since they had to work. Why, though, did the casino workers never head over to check out a race or two, or vice-versa? Moreover, why didn’t Aqueduct exploit the thousand of people who came to the casino by co-hosting events with Resorts World? Despite being a historic location, Aqueduct had seen better days. It could use the revenue and attention Resorts World would bring in.
I surveyed the casino. Beneath its gleaming lights and a silver chandelier that looked like it had trapped a series of balloons inside it, the space seemed virtually empty. There were people there, to be sure, but where was the passion? While absently-mindedly sipping watered-down sodas, glassy-eyed men and women yanked levers that caused dancing icons to flash across the screen. Aqueduct might not have the tinsel-like accessories of Resorts World, but it had something far more important: emotion.
Chain-smoking men wearing baseball caps and scuffed sneakers hollering hoarsely at the jockeys. Bettors hunched over their Daily Racing Forms in their booths, ticking off entry after entry with a blue ballpoint pen. Employees sweeping up losing tickets that were crumpled and discarded on the ground in frustration. All of these people came to the track for their own reasons, but converged one on opinion: their love for racing. I saw no one matching such a description at the casino. If the casino wanted to get people who cared, people with passion, it should reach out to the track and its attendees.
In order to get new and larger crowds who weren’t necessarily racing fans to attend, Resorts World and Aqueduct need to collaborate. Would the two remain separate or collaborate to create a bigger and better product? I wondered as I turned and walked back to the track. Who knew?
The casino wasn’t my kind of place. It seemed artificial, lacking any substance. Besides, it was time for the next race—and I had a winner to pick.
Carly Silver is a recent graduate of Columbia University.