- Some interesting responses to my post on the hiring of Hal Handel as the new NYRA COO. Apparently, at least a couple of horseplayers from New Jersey and Philadelphia were not impressed with his tours of duty there. Yet, he is obviously extremely well-respected in many circles, and brings an impressive resume, at least according to the 2007 Philly Park Media Guide.
Harold “Hal” Handel came to Philadelphia Park in 1998 when he became CEO after serving in many capacities in thoroughbred racing in New Jersey. Hal was the Executive Vice-President at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA), which operates the two state owned facilities, Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands. His previous roles in racing have included Executive Director of the New Jersey Racing Commission (NJRC), to General Manager of Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., and Legal Counsel to the NJRC. Under Mr. Handel’s tutelage, Philadelphia Park has become one of the premier facilities on the East Coast, which offers its guests the finest service, facilities and conveniences.I presume this was all written well before the track moved all of its racing patrons to the fifth floor; I don't believe that horseplayers there are presently experiencing "total satisfaction," and I'd guess that they're wondering just what and who Greenwood really had in mind when they made the improvements. But regardless, Handel's experience in areas such as track renovations and customer service, and, in addition, with working to develop account wagering and off-track betting in New Jersey, would seem to make him a perfect fit in New York (although, regarding the latter, Gov Spitzer, attending the races on Travers Day, told the Form that merging the OTB's into the track operations would not be part of his [Sept. 4] recommendation, and is perhaps down the road that is something we should examine [DRF].)
Throughout his tenure, Philadelphia Park has undergone a complete transformation from a track of the seventies to a marble-tiled masterpiece for the new millennium. Along with the physical face-lift has come a comprehensive policy of “Great Service Guaranteed” a philosophy which encompasses total satisfaction in all facets of the racing experience offered to guests every time they visit Philadelphia Park or any of the Turf Clubs.
"This is a big step for NYRA," chairman Steve Duncker said.It's also entirely possible, as one commenter speculated, that the reason Handel is leaving Greenwood, and why he had already departed as CEO of Philly Park to work on the NJ matters for Greenwood, is precisely because of his unhappiness over what has taken place at that track. Indeed, Handel told Dick Jerardi of the Philly Daily News in a May interview:
"I have known Hal Handel for more than 20 years and consider him one of the very best racing executives in the country," NYRA president and CEO Charles Hayward said. [Albany Times Union]
"If I was a regular and went there every Saturday or every Monday, I would be dissatisfied with the fifth floor....I would think that I would cut back on my visits. I don't find it terribly pleasant."I had written that I was "more than a little surprised" that NYRA would hire someone who worked for a company whose integrity, specifically in the matter of their attempts to wriggle out of their commitment to build a separate permanent slots facility at Philly Park, has been called into question. Maybe I was hasty in that assessment considering Handel's experience and the apparent respect he has in the industry.
However, what I remain really surprised about is the free pass that NYRA has been given by the press in New York, both downstate and up in Albany and Saratoga. NYRA is, presumably, about to embark on a new era in which slots will become an integral part of their racetrack(s). However, Handel, as the chief executive officer of Philadelphia Park, has recently presided over a similar integration that has, to this point, been a total disaster in terms of the bottom line of the racing operations and which has infuriated and frustrated horsemen and horseplayers alike. So, how can the press merely acquiesce and not ask the obvious questions? Don't get me wrong, I'm not attacking Handel here; it's quite possible that he is exactly the seasoned and experienced track executive that he has been portrayed as, and that he will be a terrific hire for NYRA.
But if, for example, the Yanks or Mets, each of whom are set to launch their own new eras with new stadiums, hired some guy who worked for another franchise that, say, converted most of its stadium to luxury boxes, herded their "regular" fans to the upper deck, and then filed a proposal to not build a new stadium that they had previously committed to in writing, then you could be damn sure that reporters would be all over the story! It would probably be on the front page of the NY Post, blaming Spitzer for everything!
It's my opinion that if the racing media in New York was really doing their job, someone would ask some simple questions. "Mr. Handel, the introduction of slots at Philadelphia Park has been harshly criticized by fans and horsemen; you yourself even admitted that the current facilities are 'not terribly pleasant.' Can you please comment on what has transpired there? What have you learned from the experience to help New York's transition go smoother? Can you assure New York's racing fans that they will not similarly be shunted aside for slots?" Not only do I believe that these questions are perfectly fair under the circumstances, but that in the interest of a vigorous press in the matter of horse racing in New York, they absolutely demand to be asked.