A Day at the Track: Aqueduct, 1972

by

09/29/2023

Neighborhood: Aqueduct, Queens

Approximate Odds

I hope I break even – I could use the money.
– overheard at Aqueduct

Early in 1972 I went to Aqueduct racetrack with my father and my Uncle Nick. They had the day off, and I had a new telephoto lens that I wanted to try out.

I wasn’t doing much of anything back then besides occasionally driving a yellow taxi and photographing a bit. I spent the day wandering around the track, taking pictures without asking anyone for permission.

The people at Aqueduct were overwhelmingly white working-class men. A few chatted with people nearby, but most of them stood or squatted alone. They often carried a copy of The Morning Telegraph and an Aqueduct program of the day’s races.

Before betting, handicappers would consider a horse’s past performances, the day’s weather, track conditions, the competing horses, and current betting odds in picking a winner. Win or lose, they repeated this process for every race throughout the day.

I photographed them as they struggled to hold open both the large pages of their newspapers and their programs at the same time. It did not look like they were having fun.

Doubles

Man with newspaper

Man standing on ticket stubs

Man writing

Much to their surprise, I concocted a system at Aqueduct. By betting on the favorite to place (finish third) and a long shot to win, I won $200. However, my system did not stand the test of time. My father and I returned to Aqueduct a few days later. I lost half my winnings and have never gone back.

My father (left) and my Uncle Nick pointing to a winner

The best photo I made that day has my father smiling happily as my uncle points to a winner on his program.

Note: An earlier version of this story appeared in Writer’s Foundry Review #2.

***

Larry Racioppo returned to South Brooklyn in 1970 after two years in California as a VISTA volunteer. He took a course at the School of Visual Arts, began to photograph his family and friends, and has never stopped. 

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