Dating his ethics instructor

Gaston Grant was fifteen when he first came to the Aqueduct with a father he barely knew.The elder Grant had left Jamaica and his family for Brooklyn when Gaston was little, with the hopes of establishing a better life away from the violent crime of Kingston.This will be Green Gratto’s 53rd career start, about twice as many races as most horses run in a lifetime.He recently lost the Tom Fool Handicap – a less competitive race on this same track – coming in seventh.A certified flight instructor, he flew any chance he could.He loaded delivery trucks by day, and spent nights flying small charters carrying dead bodies.But Gaston Grant, a Jamaica-born New Yorker who trains his horse every morning before going to his day job as a driver for UPS, believes that Green Gratto has what it takes to win. When asked about why the brothers entered Green Gratto in such a challenging race, he turns his palms up to the sky, smiles, and says, “You never know what can happen.” Men in baseball caps and workman’s boots press against the rails of the grandstands, flicking cigarette butts and clutching folded-up racing programs in their free hands.The stands are built for over forty thousand, but these days races typically draw fewer than two thousand.

It’s not uncommon to find a crumpled receipt for a thirteen-cent bet discarded on the floor.

Leaning in close as though telling him a secret, he adds: “But I stayed.” Those who remember the track at its peak tell stories of packed, chandeliered dining rooms, rich Manhattanites, and celebrity sightings.

But years ago the top East Coast horses migrated south to Florida for the winter, taking the money and prestige with them.

Curious weed smoke from a small cluster of Jamaican men, dressed in white suits and Nikes, wafts over the crowd of seersucker and Barbour jackets waiting for the horses to arrive.

They have all come to watch the biggest race of the day: the Wood Memorial, a qualifying run for the Kentucky Derby, and the last big race of the season at Aqueduct.

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