Arbitrary BAQ track code a disservice to bettors

September 7th, 2022

Never underestimate the ability of decision-makers to choose opaqueness when clarity would do, or to complicate the presentation of handicapping information when confusing an already put-upon betting public is an option.

Due to construction projects occurring at Belmont Park, it was announced over the summer that the track's traditional fall meet would be shifted to Aqueduct. Beginning Sept. 15, Aqueduct will play host to all downstate Thoroughbred racing in New York until next spring.

This is not the first time Aqueduct has taken over some of Belmont's traditional dates. When the current Belmont facility was being reconstructed in the 1960s, Aqueduct hosted all racing in New York outside the Saratoga meet for five years. Look at old film and video of the Belmont Stakes run from 1963-67, and you'll notice the third leg of the Triple Crown starting on Aqueduct's far turn.

However, horseplayers should not expect to see this minor and innocuous venue change simply noted on past performances and other handicapping data for months and years to come. No, this calls for the proverbial reinvention of the wheel.

Rather than identify all races run at Aqueduct from Sept. 15 through Oct. 30 as being run at "Aqu," past performance data will now refer to the track as "BAQ" (i.e. Belmont-at-Aqueduct or “Belmont at the Big A”).

Never mind that handicappers for more than a century have relied on "Aqu" to mean any race run over the Aqueduct surfaces. Never mind that in the 1960s, when Belmont-at-Aqueduct meets were clearly delineated from other meets held at Aqueduct, the track abbreviation was still shown as "Aqu" in past performance data.

It would be one thing if the track's name was changed entirely. Keystone ("Key") was re-christened Philadelphia Park ("Pha"), and then Parx ("Prx"). River Downs ("RD") became Belterra Park ("BtP"), and so on.

Some might say, "What's the big deal? This has happened before." Yes it has, unfortunately, and it's completely unnecessary.

Earlier this century, someone thought it would be a brilliant idea to begin designating the former Oak Tree Racing Association fall meet at Santa Anita as being held at "OSA" rather than at "SA," which the betting public had been accustomed to seeing for decades.

When Oak Tree began leasing Hollywood Park, "OTH" was birthed. And let's not forget the Oak Tree meet at Pleasanton, in which "Pln" was replaced by the obviously more prestigious track code of "OTP."

You down with OTP?

The past performances of champions like Zenyatta, and others who competed at Breeders' Cups in Southern California for a few years, are now littered with OSAs and OTHs, when "SA" and "Hol" would have sufficed. Speaking of "Hol," was it really necessary for Hollywood Park to spend its final days abbreviated as "BHP," due to a very short-lived commercial sponsorship?

The past performances of a countless number of horses will, in perpetuity, now have the "BAQ" designation on their records. And for what purpose?

How much this will confuse handicappers and bettors in the short and long term remains to be seen. Will a horse's past performances during a "BAQ" meet be void of any reference to their prior form over the "Aqu" surfaces, and vice versa when the calendar turns to November? That's one example of an obstacle bettors could potentially face in assessing the form of a race they're trying to handicap.

All because some folks think it's crucial that the product being held in Ozone Park, New York, the rest of the year needs to be differentiated from one two-month period to the next, while consideration for those that actually bet is of little or no importance.