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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Empire Demands Attention

- On-the-Muscle Empire Racing Unveils Plan for Spa reads the headline on Bloodhorse.com, and that's an apt description of the organization. Second in the hearts of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing, they are full bent on being number one in the hearts of the fans and in the minds of the politicians in New York. They held a press conference in Saratoga Springs, which happens to be part of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno's district, unveiling a host of fan and horsemen-friendly ideas. If their PR agency Eric Mower did their job well which, judging by all the press and favorable headlines I've seen (Empire Racing vows to freeze prices at Saratoga if awarded franchise...Preserving the Charm of Saratoga While Enhancing Racing), then it was all covered on the local Albany news broadcasts as well.

And it's just the beginning of what will be a statewide barrage.

[CEO Jeff] Perlee said Empire plans to make a series of statewide presentations touting a comprehensive plan for making upstate New York a thoroughbred center comparable to Kentucky. The group will unveil specifics next week in Albany, he said. [Thoroughbred Times]
And what was Excelsior's response? A brief statement issued just prior to the festivities:
"Earlier this month a distinguished bipartisan panel recommended that Excelsior should run New York's racing franchise. They chose Excelsior over Empire on the merits because our team and our plans were stronger and offered a better deal for horsemen, fans, and taxpayers." [Albany Times Union]
It's a fascinating contrast of styles between the two contenders, and it remains to be seen if Excelsior will continue to exercise restraint. They may just feel that their proposal $peak$ for itself to the people who matter, especially if Empire's Saratoga ideas were already included in their bid (and it's unclear to me if that's the case). [EDIT: Excelsior claims that they were...see following post.]

Empire laid it on thick, promising town meetings, community partnerships, a public viewing area at the Oklahoma traning track, and much more:
Marketing of the local tourism industry to attract people from Montreal and other parts of Quebec, the Canadian province that borders upstate New York.

--The freezing of admission prices at Saratoga at their current levels for a minimum of five years and allowing fans to continue to bring coolers into the track.

--Enlarging the family picnic area by using part of the parking lot currently reserved for horse owners.

--Restoring steeplechase racing by including 12 jump races during the Saratoga meet and adding an extra flat race on jump-race days.

--The hiring of "guest ambassadors" to .......
Wait a minute, what was that?

Enlarging the family picnic area by using part of the parking lot currently reserved for horse owners.

SAY WHAT??? NO....I..DON'T..THINK..SO!!! That's it, man...I am SO done being objective about these guys! Them's fightin' words!! More picnic space so a few thousand more people can sit in the back and not pay attention? Thoughts of cruising by the masses dragging their coolers through the local streets as I make my way towards my spot in the owners' lot inspire me as I write my latest cash call check for Highland Cat and Christening!

I wrote a post during Saratoga on the way that so many people in the picnic area don't pay a bit of attention to the races, and at the time I tried to upload a video I'd shot, but wasn't able to manage. But now, armed with You Tube, I can. This was taken during the running of a race last summer - you can here Durkin in the background. I think it's pretty funny.




One person who did not see Empire's press conference is outgoing Governor George Pataki. He's in Iraq. "By all accounts, this government has not delivered the security and stability that the people of Iraq need," Pataki said. [Buffalo News] Like we really needed the Governor of New York to go to Iraq to tell us that. Certainly he must be on some kind of important state business and not just using taxpayer money to generate photo ops for a presidential run, right?

State lawmakers are out of town too, as the legislature is out of session. The Globetrotting Governor, however, has summoned them back for a special session on Dec 12, for the stated purpose of passing a law permitting civil confinement, in psychiactric hospitals, of the worst sex offenders when they're released from prisons. Pataki is center to left on many social issues - especially gambling, which he attempted to bring to the state on the same scope as Pennsylvania - and this seems like a handy opportunity to look righteous to the right.

The NY Sun reports here that many topics may be addressed in the special session, including a controversial pay raise for lawmakers that the Governor says he opposes, but is expected to use as a bargaining chip nonetheless. He's trying to get some mileage for his presidential ambitions, but one thing that's apparently not on the agenda is the franchise bids and the changes in racing law that we all presume with accompany them. Those will be left for the next Governor to decide.

8 Comments:

Green Mtn Punter said...

Empire Racing Associates: All out media blitz,all the time. That's it for them, all hot air. It's like the closing days of a political campaign where the candidates are making promises willy-nilly to every possible interest group and voter segment. It would be laughable if we didn't fear the esteemed state legislature would fall for it. We still don't know how much leeway the bidders have in "improving" their bids post- Ad Hoc Committee report. Although Empire's promises so far have not to my knowledge included upping the ante, isn't that the inevitable next phase of the campaign?

weegee said...

Your video pretty much sums up why I dislike Saratoga. Downstate may not be as glamorous, but it's all about the racing. The real challenge would be to make Belmont/Long Island a thoroughbred center, which, in my opinion, would be more appropriate. Saratoga can be the picnic center.

Kashatreya said...

Not to sound like Abraham Simpson, but as few as 7 years ago (maybe even sooner?) you weren't allowed to bring folding chairs, blankets, coolers or ANYTHING to the Saratoga area in the paddock directly opposite the betting windows. That, I always thought (and still think) is the best piece of real estate at the Spa. Now it's overrun with pinheads and nimrods more interested in brews than horses and who make it impossible to get around. I'd like to see something done regarding getting more picnic space and making it a bit less crowded, but I suppose my dream of reclaiming that area is gone. Boo.

Pete from Gowanus said...

That's not a bad idea to reserve that are between the windows and paddock for real bettors but i don't really get the hostility towards the picnicers -- we don't have to sit back there if we don't want and some of my most fun days at SAR have been being a mug and eating and drinking in the back (especially on Battle of the Brews day. . .)

Anonymous said...

I agree SPA is the only place that does NOT need any help, what are thier plans to revitalize the best track in the country, BELMONT PARK (and of course the BIG A), thats what should matter in this debate.

Sure you will be commenting on this, but it would be great if NYCOTB would merge with the new entity.

However, Doctofoffs assertion that the OTB needs to pay less to racing in order to survive is a joke.

How was the Giuliani administration able to suddenly turn a big profit with NYCOTB yet the prior and current mayors always lose money? Patronage, pure and simple.

Green Mtn Punter said...

The Spa's comeback, beginning in the mid- 1960's, is the biggest success story in post WW II American racing. And say what you will about NYRA, they deserve most of the credit. Wouldn't the traffic problems in the paddock go away if bettors had wireless access to on-track mutuel pools? Aren't such accounts part of the reforms included in the franchise bids? Which reminds me of another crucial aspect of the whole franchise award process, i.e., aren't the bids contingent on major reform of NY racing and wagering law? What happens to any or all of the bids if the legislature doesn't enact the necessary reform legislation? Just wondering.

alan said...

From what I recall of the RFP's, weren't the bidders supposed to present different proposals for three possible scenarios regarding possible change in racing laws - drastic, middling, or none?

Green Mtn Punter said...

Alan, now that you mention it I think you may be right on the 3 scenarios. Have you seen Ben Liebman's thoughts on the Ad Hoc Committee Recommendation posted on the Racing & Gaming Today web site? Bottom line: The race for the franchise is still setting up so still too early to be able to handicap the winner. Ben pointed out that Excelsior had the legislative members of the AHC in it's corner, quite a plus to be sure, but on the negative side are the campaign contributions and favors Spitzer, the big reformer, received from Excelsior's Fields and Mulrow. I'm surprised Empire hasn't pointed this out already or are they vulnerable on this issue as well? Meanwhile, Empire has embarked on a PR campaign to reassure Saratogians that despite Stronach's participation in Empire, all will be better than ever for the Spa under Empire. These guys are relentless.