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Sunday, August 26, 2007

NY Press Hiccups on Handel

- 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.

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.
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].)
"This is a big step for NYRA," chairman Steve Duncker said.

"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]
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:
"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.

14 Comments:

Michael said...

I'm still pretty shocked that NYRA is going to get this franchise for another 20 years.

Anonymous said...

Why? What have Empire, Excelsior and Capital Play done to distinguish themselves?

readyforthestart said...

Alan,
The press around Albany know very little about horse racing on all levels. From the sport to the politics behind it, they are pretty uninformed. On this subject they just report the press release. When word floated out that they were thinking about closing the Big A no one thought to ask about how that would work. My hope now is that they give this to NYRA, get the politics out and get the slots going and then bring back Nader.

Anonymous said...

How about asking Mr. Handel what his position was at Philadelphia Park on critical racing issues such as aboloshing steroids, or out of competition EPO testing, or race track venue intervention on trainers with multiple positives who's conduct is detrimental to racing, and whether or not these positions will be adopted or changed in NY. I would then want to know what he did to improve living and working conditions on the Philadelphia Park backside during his reign and what his intentions for the deplorable state of Belmont and Aqueduct's backsides might be. Also, what vision does he have for the future of the thoroughbred industry in NY and the country, aside from what NYRA's plans might be. I agree with the original poster here that the NY press has been uncharacteristicly lax and therefore should pursue Mr. Handel for answers and his insight, as well as take a trip to see all that the new casino and racetrack at Philadelphia Park has to offer, so that Hal Handel can be fairly judged by everyone with a vested interest in thoroughbred racing.

Anonymous said...

Let's see what Steve Crist has to say about the Handel hire, if anything. Problem is that Charlie Hayward and Steve go way back to the first DRF buyout deal so Steve has a vested interest in seeing Charlie succeed, and by extension, Charlie's hires. On the other hand, Steve has always stuck up for the best interests of fans and bettors so it will be interesting to see how he plays this key NYRA hire. Hey, Steve, time to bring back a really dynamic, forward looking, sales oriented executive- time to bring back Kenny Noe for one last curtain call?! /S/Green Mtn Punter

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

Anonymous,

It's not that Empire, Excelsior, et all have risen to the top and been groundbreaking, it's that NYRA has barely been able to tread water for how long?

What is there to like about Bankruptcy, Corruption, Questionable no-bid contracts (for a firm to handle integrity issues, no less) from a firm that wrote a pro-NRYA love letter...etc?

I'm not an expert of this NY racing franchise competition like Alan is, but are you really happy with the status quo, b/c with NYRA still in control, that's likely what you'll get for another 20+ years...

Anonymous said...

Whip abuse in the Ballerina?

affirmedny said...

Account wagering and off track betting? The NJ account wagering SUCKS, I know I'm an account holder and I probably use it as much as anyone. There's a million problems with the programming, they forget to put tracks on the menu that they're taking. They're the LAST to know when a track changes it's wagering menu (I always have to email a woman at the Meadowlands when a change is made to a track I bet otherwise they'd NEVER know about it). As far as OTB is concerned, they've opened exactly ONE in the 5 or 6 years since it was approved. There's another one in Woddbridge that's been on the "verge of opening" for about a year now. If Handel's responsible for this sh*t, he should be ashamed to put it on his resume.

alan said...

affirmedny - Thanks for that feedback, very interesting. The NYRA account wagering site is actually quite functional!

Anonymous said...

There's no doubt that NJ account wagering is a disgrace but you can't realistically blame that on Handel since he was still onsite at Philly as recently as June , or maybe even July.

I don't know why I find myself defending this man (I'm the one that Alan is referring to on the previous thread). I think anyone who would leave Monmouth Park to go to Philly Park has rocks in their head to begin with.

But I think it needs to be made clear that the primary problem at Philly is, and always has been OWNERSHIP.

affirmedny said...

>>There's no doubt that NJ account wagering is a disgrace but you can't realistically blame that on Handel since he was still onsite at Philly as recently as June , or maybe even July.

The NJ account wagering transactions are processed thru Philly Park's phonebet network, so one could argue that Handel had a hand in BOTH ends of the process. Either way he was involved at one end or the other and it's a poor product and we in NJ prohibited from using any other service. I read a lot of Kenny Noe bashing but does anyone remember NYRA pre-Noe? instant doubles, one or two trifectas a day, etc. I'd take Noe in a heartbeat over Handel.

Eric said...

NJ's biggest mistake was to allow control of the OTB's (Vineland is owned by Greenwood, so is the forthcoming Woodbridge branch) and account wagering (Philly Park Phone Bet system) to a company that is not even in NJ! Therefore they (Greenwood) have no interest in what would be or is good for NJ racing and wagering. Greenwood only cares about Philly Park and more so, the slot machines at Philly.

I think Handel left because first he was essentially demoted from CEO in June (Handel was going to oversee Greenwood's NJ operations -OTB's and ACRC) and second, he didn't agree with the direcion Philly Park has taken (4th floor for horseplayers; Greenwood asking Bensalem Twp to allow them to change the plans for the racino).

If NYRA doesn't get an extension or win the franchise, Handel will indeed be out of a job in 6 months....but how long do you think he will be on the sidelines anyway before he is picked up by another track or the NY franchise winner?

Anonymous said...

I have been a long time Philadelphia Park patron and let me be the first to say that Hal Handel was not responsible for any of the mess that was started at Philly Park. Greenwood Racing (Owners Of Philly Park) brought in an entire casino executive staff. David Jonas was appointed CEO of casino operations. What that man wanted he got, and us "the horseplayers" were left in the dark. Handel moved to the NJ operations and than on to NYRA. If you got a second look take a look and read this: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/25/nyregion/25campaign.html