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.