- Magna announced that they will not operate Great Lakes Downs after the 2007 meeting. The track has been a steady money loser for the company, including a $1.8 million bath it took in 2006, after losing $1.6 million the year before. In a press release, the company said: without significant changes in the regulatory environment that restricts horseracing from competing on a level playing field with other forms of gaming and entertainment, MEC has been unable to make Great Lakes Downs profitable. The failure to get slots at Michigan racetracks is particularly vexing, as the state has at least the 19 full-fledged casinos that I see listed in this directory. Even Gary Tinkle, the head of the state's horsemen group, seemed sympathetic, telling the Form: "We were aware that they had been losing money for years on the track, and we're just appreciative that Magna made such a strong go at it."
Coincidentally, the track is also apparently the focal point of whatever it is that has caused ten jockeys to be banned from riding in Florida and Pennsylvania.
- Sheihkatoga, as a loyal reader emailed me yesterday. His Royal Checkbook Horseman has purchased the Stonerside property adjacent to the Saratoga backstretch for a reported $17.5 million, even more than he's ever paid for an unraced horse. I've seen the property, fenced off forebodingly behind the main backstretch area of the track. Darley has actually leased it for the last two years, so it will be just like home; Bernardini trained over its training track as a juvenile. Former owner Robert McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans, bought the property for $5.5 million in 1999.
- Another airplane trip taken by NY's Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno courtesy of former Empire investor Jared Abbruzzee has come under scrutiny. Abbruzzee flew Bruno to West Palm Beach, where they stayed at the Breakers, regarded as one of Florida's most lavish oceanfront resorts, according to the report in the Albany Times Union. They played golf at an exclusive club, took a helicopter trip over Gulfstream, and visited an upscale strip club, bada bing. The trip took place in January 2006, months before Abbruzzee became an investor in Empire, and while he was involved with Friends of New York.
The twist here is that the trip also included Joseph Torani, a member of the state Oversight Committee overseeing NYRA's operations in the wake of their legal troubles. Torani turned out to be a voice of support to NYRA; he's the only member of the board who publicly criticized the state for its stonewalling of the Aqueduct casino. In fact, the Times Union relates that Torani reported the details of the trip to NYRA's CEO Charlie Hayward. "Joe's a stand-up guy. He told us he went on that helicopter ride around Gulfstream, to look at the track from the air," Hayward said.
Hayward said he has concerns about what was going on behind the scenes as Friends of New York Racing, a nonprofit group that included Abbruzzese, morphed into Empire Racing Associates. Empire Racing officials said Hayward is off base in describing Friends of New York Racing as its forerunner.