04/13/2015 3:05PM

Aqueduct backstretch decision popular with horsemen

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Horsemen were relieved to have been notified by management over the weekend that the Aqueduct backstretch will remain open at least through a good portion of July.

Since last November, New York Racing Association officials had talked about closing the Aqueduct backstretch for a 5 1/2-month period from May 1 through Oct. 15 – when racing wasn’t conducted at Aqueduct – as a way of saving approximately $1 million in maintenance costs.

In hopes of easing the burden of housing some of the approximate 500 horses stabled at Aqueduct, NYRA is expanding several existing barns at Belmont as well as constructing a new barn. NYRA had hoped to have 200 additional stalls available by May 1 with an additional 50 new stalls by the fall. Renovations to the existing barns progressed through the winter but are not yet complete. The new barn should be ready for occupancy soon.

Many trainers had their stall allotment cut for the upcoming Belmont meet, prompting them to split their stable between Belmont and Saratoga or send some horses to out-of-town tracks. By keeping Aqueduct open at least through the end of the Belmont spring meet (July 19), more horsemen will be inclined to stay.

“This decision will result in additional training space for our horsemen during this time,” NYRA spokesman John Durso Jr. said.

“It’s simpler,” said trainer Bruce Levine, who has horses at Belmont and Aqueduct. “The biggest thing is financial. stall rent [at Saratoga] is a killer then you got to rent a place for an assistant. It doesn’t end.”

The new barn at Belmont is expected to go to trainer David Jacobson, who will then have to decide whether to keep his overflow at Aqueduct or take stalls at Monmouth.

“I’m in the process of evaluating the situation and figuring it out,” Jacobson said. “The only thing I’m sure of is I’m going to move 40 horses to Belmont; I’m not giving up that new barn.”

Jacobson did say he was happy that Aqueduct will remain open.

“It eases the pressure for horsemen who wanted to have more horses here and it was also a big issue with housing,” Jacobson said.

Approximately 150 grooms and hotwalkers live on the backstretch at Aqueduct.

NYRA officials will no doubt revisit closing the Aqueduct backstretch when racing on this circuit moves to Saratoga in July. Last year, the Aqueduct backstretch was closed during the Saratoga meet.