11/03/2010 2:01PM

Mood at Aqueduct hopeful as new casinos near

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The landscape of New York racing is about to change, and fans and horsemen will be able to see those changes unfold before their eyes when Aqueduct opens its six-month run Friday.

While those who attend the races will gather on the clubhouse side of the track, over in the once-deserted grandstand there will be plenty of activity as construction begins on a new casino that will house 4,525 slot machines. Resorts World New York will be built on two floors at Aqueduct over the next 12 months. The first phase of the project is expected to be completed in six months with as many as 3,000 slot machines operational by Memorial Day.

New York Racing Association officials say the construction of the casino will have minimal impact on racing, at least at the start. The impact the revenue from the casinos will have on racing could be huge for the industry, with an infusion of money for purses and capital improvements, as well as the downtrodden New York breeding industry.

“Amongst horsemen there is a feeling there is a light shining at the end of the tunnel,” trainer Gary Contessa said. “The slots can rejuvenate a stagnant business that was kind of on life support.”

It will take a while for purses to increase. In fact, the 13 percent purse increase NYRA put in place for the bulk of the Belmont fall meet has been eliminated, and purses will be cut back to what they were at the beginning of the Belmont meet. Still, purses are slightly higher than they were for Aqueduct’s 2009 fall meet.

As usual, racing will be conducted on a five-day-a-week schedule, with Mondays and Tuesdays dark. Post time each day is 12:30 p.m., and general admission and parking are free.

Dirt races will be run on Aqueduct’s main track for 18 days, or through Nov. 28, before switching to the inner track Dec. 1 through March.

Seventeen of the 22 stakes Aqueduct will offer before the end of the calendar year will be run over the main track. The biggest day of the fall meet is Nov. 27, when four stakes will be run, including the Grade 1 Cigar Mile for older males, the Grade 1 Gazelle for 3-year-old fillies, and a pair of Grade 2 events for 2-year-olds, the Remsen and Demoiselle.

Aqueduct’s opening coincides with the first two days of the 27th Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs, which will be available to wager on via simulcast. Aqueduct will offer eight live races Friday and Saturday.

Saturday’s card will feature three stakes, including the Grade 3, $150,000 Red Smith for fillies and mares going 1 3/8 miles on turf, the $150,000 Nashua for 2-year-old colts going a mile on dirt, and the $100,000 Tempted for juvenile fillies also at a mile on dirt.

Rudy Rodriguez, fresh off capturing the Belmont fall training title with 22 wins from 62 starters, figures to be a force again at Aqueduct, where his horses are based.

“I’m excited to be home,” Rodriguez said of Aqueduct. “I call it home because I can be there all day, all night. My wife doesn’t like it, but what are you going to do? It’s always so much easier when you’re running right from the stall. When they’re in their own stall you don’t have to do too much with them, you just leave them alone and let them relax.’’

Friday’s feature was scheduled to be the $60,000 Love Sign Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, but the race did not fill. Instead, a first-level allowance sprint tops the eight-race card. Star Orchid, who is 2 for 3 over Aqueduct’s main track, goes turf to dirt for Steve Asmussen, who was the leading trainer for last spring’s Aqueduct spring meet.

In her last start on dirt, Star Orchid won a starter allowance coming from just off the pace. In Friday’s feature, Star Orchid should get a good set-up with Erin Rose and Yo Karakorum in the field. A hot pace would also assist Babai Baby, who finished in front of Star Orchid in a turf sprint at Belmont on Oct. 11.