Day At The Track

Ten secrets of Yonkers Raceway

12:01 PM 12 Jan 2019 NZDT
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Yonkers Raceway Seabiscuit
Yonkers Raceway

Feeling lucky? At Empire City Casino you can try your hand at hitting the jackpot on the gaming floor or by picking a winning horse at the historic Yonkers Raceway. Located less than two miles from the Bronx, the casino complex boast more than 5,000 slot machines and hosts live harness racing a night, five nights a week, year round.

Every race night nearly 100 horses from around the Tri-State area travel to the historic track to carry on the century old racing tradition.

 Founded in 1899 as the Empire City Track by William H. Clark’s Empire City Trotting Club, the half-mile dirt track at the Raceway was built for standardbred harness racing, a practice that continues to this day.

Untapped Cities Insiders were recently treated to an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of Yonkers Raceway where Insiders got to visit the paddock, watch races from the Driver’s Lounge and stand in the winner’s circle as well as learn about the history of the track and some tips and tricks on how to bet.

Check out ten secrets of Yonkers Raceway that we learned on the tour:

1. Champion Horses Have Raced There

Champion Horse Seabiscuit, Image via Wikimedia Commons, Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation

Throughout its long history, over one million horses have raced at Yonkers Raceway. Though originally built for harness-racing, thoroughbred racing was brought to the track in 1907 by the second owner James Butler and continued until 1943. During that time some of the most legendary thoroughbreds made history on the track including the infamous Seabiscuit. Seabiscuit was a champion thoroughbred racehorse who became the American Horse of the Year in 1938 after he beat Triple-Crown winner War Admiral (who also raced at Yonkers) by four lengths in a special race at Pimlico. He was the top winning racehorse of the 1940s and set a new record at Yonkers Raceway when he won the Scarsdale Handicap in 1936. In 2012, vice president of Empire City at Yonkers Raceway Bob Galterio told Wag Magazine that “Seabiscuit won more stake races at Yonkers’ Empire City then at any other racetrack.” Thoroughbred racing ended at the Raceway when harness racing was reintroduced in 1943.

2. Drivers, Not Jockeys, Ride the Horses

Driver Jordan Stratton talks with Untapped Cities Insiders in the paddock before a race

Unlike in thoroughbred horse racing where jockeys need to meet specific height and weight requirements, harness racing drivers do not have the such restrictions. Drivers, also unlike jockeys, are not restricted to riding one horse. Drivers are assigned by the horses’ trainers and owners and can be assigned to multiple horses throughout the night. If a driver is assigned to two different horses during the same race, he gets to decide which one he will ride. When Untapped Cities Insiders visited Yonkers Raceway on a behind-the-scenes tour, we got to chat with driver Jordan Stratton who that night was racing 10 different horses! The drivers are also allowed to wear their own colors no matter which horse they are racing with, whereas in Thoroughbred racing the driver wears the owner’s colors.

Drivers’ suits hanging in the locker room

3. The Cart is Called a Sulky

A sulky is the two-wheeled, lightweight cart attached to the horse that drivers ride in. Though sulky is the technical term, most people just call it a race bike. The horses wear different types of sulkies when warming up versus racing. When warming up, the horses are usually taken out by trainers and not the drivers, so the warm up cart has a pouch for the trainers to rest their feet in. During the race, drivers keep their feet up on the sides of the cart so there is no pouch. You may also notice the straps around the horse’s legs. In harness racing, the horses must keep an even gait, or trot, and are not allowed to break into a gallop. The straps help to maintain this stride and prevent the horses from galloping.

4. You Can Spread Ashes on the Track

Die-hard racing fans can actually become part of the racetrack at Yonkers Raceway. In very specific circumstances, fans are allowed to scatter ashes on the gravel track. Of course, anyone who wished to do so must obtain permission from the track first. Since Yonkers Raceway is one of the oldest and most historic tracks in the country, it is easy to understand why someone would have this final wish.

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