By David Grening
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – In an effort to expedite the construction of the casino at Aqueduct, the New York Racing Association will close the Big A’s backstretch for seven weeks and horses stabled there will be moved to Belmont Park to train. Racing at Aqueduct will not be interrupted.
The approximately 350 horses stabled at Aqueduct will begin moving to Belmont on Monday and the plan is to have all the horses transferred to Belmont by Friday, according to NYRA officials. It is expected that the horses will be permitted back at Aqueduct beginning April 4. There are currently only 1,500 to 1,600 horses stabled at Belmont, which has a capacity for more than 2,000.
Without horses training over Aqueduct’s inner track in the morning, construction can now take place uninterrupted until post time on race days. First post is 12:30 p.m. Eastern. Previously, construction stopped during training hours, 5:30 to 9 a.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 5:30 to 9:45 a.m. on Sundays. Training had been eliminated on Mondays.
Construction of the casino – which will house 4,500 slot machines and be known as Resorts World New York – has hit some delays, first in the permit process and then with asbestos abatement. Initially, Genting New York, the company in charge of building the casino, had hoped to open part of the casino in May. More than likely, the casino won’t be ready to open until late summer.
According to Hal Handel, NYRA’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, Genting will soon begin doing some structural steel reinforcement work outside, which will include heavy machinery and could create a significant amount of noise. In addition, construction crews are still in the midst of dismantling the Aqueduct grandstand.
“Really, everything they accomplish after the next two months is based on how much they get done in the next two months,’’ Handel said Friday. “Their construction company said to us they thought this could speed the whole process up as much as four to eight weeks.’’
Handel said that management was “very appreciative’’ that the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, headed by president trainer Rick Violette, agreed to the move. Violette, who has a 35-horse string stabled at Aqueduct, noted that it was an inconvenience, but a necessary one.
“The horsemen agree that the earlier we get this open the better things are going to be,’’ Violette said. “Every week that goes by costs purses a million to a million and a half dollars. This could move things up by as much as a month, so that’s a lot of money. For the greater good, the horsemen agreed to do it.’’
Other horsemen with large outfits stabled at Aqueduct include Richard Dutrow Jr., Rudy Rodriguez, Gary Contessa, and David Jacobson.
In addition to the 350 horses that have to move, approximately 120 to 150 employees who live on the Aqueduct backstretch will be transferred to Belmont.
Genting is picking up the costs of transporting and bedding down the horses.
While the backstretch is empty, NYRA also will do some much-needed works on the barns and dorms.