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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

REMEMBER CHUTES AND LADDERS? NYRA WANTS YOU PREPARED FOR CHUTES AND TUNNELS

HALLANDALE BEACH, January 16, 2022 – It was the summer of 1964 and early that year I signed up for a job at the World’s Fair. They called that section of Queens Flushing, but 111th Street was really Corona, where I was raised on 104th.

There are two things I recall from those days as a ticket seller on the Swiss Sky Ride, a lift which traversed almost all the real estate upon which the World’s Fair stood.

The first was being stopped in my tracks, literally, reading the Daily News back page on my way inside: “Jets Sign Namath for $400,000.”

I just kept staring at the headline. What newcomer could be worth that kind of money? I think Mickey Mantle was making $100,000 a year back then.

It wasn’t long before Broadway Joe proved to be a bargain. The brash Alabama quarterback delivered on a “guarantee” he made before Super Bowl III in Miami, that his upstart AFL team would defeat the NFL’s mighty Baltimore Colts, a two-touchdown favorite. The rest is history.

My second vivid recollection was a car trip to Saratoga with two of my Sky Ride buddies. One of them had a driver’s license and a car. I had the Morning Telegraph, and off we went because I made the boys a guarantee.

“I have a horse that can’t lose the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga.” This was six years before Howard Samuels and Off-Track Betting became a reality. No one knew a bookmaker. The only way to get a bet in was on-track.

It all came flooding back this week when the New York Racing Association announced it intended to rebuild the Wilson Mile chute at Saratoga which, ironically, was discontinued in the year New York City OTB was born.

The chute was deconstructed two years later and mile races briefly returned 20 years later. Operations Vice-President Glen Kozak told the NYRA press staff this week that he expects the chute will be finished in time for the 2022 Saratoga season.

We’re not a fan of races that begin on a turn. Yes, a Wilson Mile race will be out of a chute, by traditional definition a straightaway. However, the horses run straight for only about a sixteenth of a mile before turning left into the backstretch, a kind of turn-and-a-half route.

The reconstruction of the Wilson Mile chute means that mile races will be able to be conducted regularly at Saratoga for the first time in 52 years. We’re excited by the prospect of being able to watch races that start adjacent to the clubhouse turn again.

Even  at 20, we recognized the value of main or only early speed. My horse had that kind of zip, was in very sharp form, and he rated to control the pace throughout. That he did, but did he go all the way?

Waiting for the photo was interminable. But, in the end, Malicious, trained by John Gaver Sr. and ridden by ‘Gentleman John’ Rotz, hung on by the narrowest of margins, earning $30,442 in the process. That’s no typo–and why we found the Namath contract so astounding.

Malicious did not return to win that year’s Travers, which went to Quadrangle for Hall of Famers Elliot Burch and Manny Ycaza. The winner’s share of the Travers purse in 1964 was $52,033.

This week NYRA also announced it would construct a tunnel from the Belmont grandstand into the humongous infield which also harkened us back albeit not that far. We recall a Newsday column suggesting just that, but that was the age when 100,000+ showed up for the Belmont Stakes.

The tunnel is meant primarily to house track maintenance equipment and a portion, thankfully, will be designated as a pedestrian walkway. As credentialed media, we’ve seen some races from the Saratoga infield. As a fan , I watched a race down the Hillside Course at Santa Anita.

That was the most fun I’ve had watching a race live from ground level. Standing virtually in the middle of the infield, I looked straight up the chute and the horses were running straight toward me. During the race, I  made a 270° semi-circle and followed the horses all the way to the wire.

From a racing perspective, the tunnel also facilitate track maintenance but also lead to the possible installation of a synthetic surface inside the turf courses, making year-round racing at Belmont Park a reality.

But that’s for another day. For now, we’ll look forward to seeing a live race out of the Wilson Mile Chute this August. Just like the old days.

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13 Responses

  1. JP–
    How about a creating a new Saratoga Stakes race–the Mary Lou Mile?? NYRA could move the Met Mile back to Memorial Day, schedule the Mary Lou Mile for Opening Weekend, and offer a $1 million bonus to any horse that sweeps the Met/Mary Lou Miles– and attract Flightline for the inaugural running.
    What a great way for NYRA to christen the new Tom Durkin Mile Chute and create a new summer tradition at the SPAAAAHHHH!

  2. Damn, wish I thought of that first, Chuck, the Marylou Mile?

    Like everyone, we’d love to see the Met Mile on Memorial Day to begin the unofficial start to the prime New York season, and the Marylou Mile to kick off Saratoga each year. Brilliant idea, and who would be more deserving than the Queen Savior of Saratoga?

    But not sure about coupling those two races, would need to think about that re divisional schedules, etc. We can take baby steps and use the Marylou as a bridge to the Woodward later in the meet.

  3. Remember a field trip with our elementary school to World’s Fair. As we were about to get off the bus the teacher instructed us to go to some of the exhibits and not just the rides. We ignored her and made a beeline for the Log Flume ride. We were 7th graders back then and the trip was a blast. Now you can walk the grounds if you go to the US Open tennis tournament. Also saw The Kingsmen perform their new single, Louie, Louie at the Fair. And who can forget the Carousel of Progress which ended up at DisneyWorld in Florida. I think I have that correct.

    1. C,

      Probably didn’t see as much of the Fair as I should have. It was a long workday and at the end we all went to one of those international-style bars not far from the entrance of the Sky Ride. When you’re 20, you have the luxury of thinking you know everything and have all the time in the world.

  4. Carousel of Progress debuted at The World’s Fair in April of 1964 as Progressland. It is now in Tomorrowland at The Magic Kingdom at DisneyWorld in Florida. Also remember the Borden Milk exhibit with a giant Elsie the cow mascot out front. But basically we were there for the rides, ha, ha.

    1. Glad we cleared that up, C. Feel like I was there with you… Think we both got a little off message here.

  5. JP,
    I assume your Wilson Chute mile race won by Malicious was the Jim Dandy in 1964. Rotz also won that race again two years later on Indulto, and Arts and Letters was the last champion to win it at a 8 furlongs in 1969; two years before they started running it at 9 furlongs.

    The horse I most associate with that chute, however, was Pluck who I believe once held the track record. I can’t confirm that, though, because Team Valor named one of their 1968 foals Pluck, also, and now all Internet references belong to the latter.

    Chuck,
    I like the idea of a “Mary Lou Mile (MLM),” and I’d like to see it offered as the second leg of an all-mile bonus-incentivized series across all three NYRA tracks; terminating in the Cigar Mile.

    However, I’m hoping Flightline (FL) will compete at longer distances after the Met Mile. The 9f Whitney, 10f Jockey Club Gold Cup, and 9f Woodward were run 4 weeks apart on the first Saturdays of August, September, and October in 2021. That may not work for FL’s trainer, John Sadler, whose hesitance to share plan’s for the colt’s future suggests physical problems that might prevent his adhering to any planned schedule.

    Perhaps he and others might attempt all three with 5-week spacing, but this would require moving the Whitney closer to the beginning of the meet. An earlier Whitney day would need no supporting cast to succeed if FL were to participate, but just in case the relatively new Saratoga Derby can’t anchor the existing calendar position by itself, then perhaps the MLM would be a good fit there.

    Why should NYRA make the effort? Because so many of us are inclined to agree with FL’s connections’ conviction that he is a “horse of a lifetime;” capable of duplicating Secretariat’s feat of setting three consecutive track records at classic distances. But even if FL were to win all the existing NYRA G1 routes for older horses, how could he challenge Secretariat’s brilliant 2:24 minutes for 12 furlongs since no G1 race is held at that distance on dirt other than the Belmont Stakes for three year olds?

    Unfortunately, that’s where the comparison will end unless a) FL’s connections are willing and determined to pursue confirmation of his greatness, 2) NYRA has sufficient vision and flexibility to provide a special opportunity with meaningful incentives, and c) the parties can actually work together to bring it off.

    I’d like to see a one year experiment extending the Woodward to 12f, moving the Whitney up 2 weeks and the JCGC 1 week, spacing from the the JCGC, and incrementing the purse by $500k for each participating winner of the Met Mile, Whitney, JCGC, Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont stakes; even if any two of them are won by the same horse.

  6. John,
    Just like to add since we are reminiscing racing and other highlights. Spent summer weekends at Lake George and Saratoga in my teens, while watching Shea Stadium being built from my junior high school math class, and hopping the fences at the world’s fair to be chased by security. A bit too young to work, thank G-d.

    1. Mark, we always went further up to Schroon Lake, 50-55 minutes from Spa doing 75-80. Worth the drive. If I were a security guard, you’d be golden; speed not my thing…

  7. Indulto–
    I love the idea of have a One Mile Triple Crown with the Cigar Mile being the third jewel in the crown–let’s hope NYRA is listening in!
    And frankly I would love to see Flightline compete here in Saratoga in the MLM, Whitney, Woodward or whatever–you name it. I just want to see Flightline in person and can’t even imagine how many people would come to the Spaaaaahhhhh see him strut his stuff.

    1. Chuck,
      Not since Secretariat have I heard/read so much buzz about a single horse. (I keep envisioning actress, Shelly Long, from “Cheers” [cause everybody knows his name].) LOL

      I’m sure Flightline could cause a traffic jam on the Northway even more impacting than “Big Red” did on the Parkways to Belmont on Belmont Stakes day, but I expect NYRA would limit attendance to such events, though new handle records should be set!

  8. Gents, I second and third all those remarks…

    Question: Why is there no Eclipse Award for Top open class miler?

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