- The first thing I thought of when I heard that NYRA had hired Hal Handel as its new chief operating officer was the hard-line comments he made as CEO for Greenwood Racing, the owner of Philadelphia Park, regarding on-track insurance coverage for jockeys. Philly Park was the last "major" track I knew of that was stubbornly holding the line on the $100,000 coverage limit as many tracks raised theirs to $1 million. Repeating the old stand-by defense that other tracks had abandoned in the light of the Gary Birzer tragedy, Handel said:
"Remember that they're not our employees. We have no employment relationship with them at all....These are the employees of the trainers and the horsemen."And regarding the fact that many other tracks had increased the coverage, Handel said: "If somebody jumps off the roof of a building, that doesn't mean we're going to do it." And that was with the riches of slots poised to begin pouring in. (After protracted negotiations, the track agreed to increase the coverage to $500,000 earlier this year.)
Handel, as the CEO of the track's parent company, may very well have just been spouting the company line, and besides, that issue is moot in New York, where the riders are covered by a state-sponsored policy. But I would imagine that some riders might be annoyed by the appointment of someone who spoke so strongly against their interests in such a sensitive area, even if he was just acting as his employers' public face.
Even more curious to me about the hiring is the events that have occurred since the slots parlor at Philly Park opened. With VLT's dominating the existing grandstand, horseplayers were relegated to the 5th floor; on-track handle and attendance have plummeted. “Philadelphia Park is poised to become a top tier racetrack offering superb thoroughbred racing year round," Handel said in a statement. I think that some horseplayers there might not agree.
Whatsmore, earlier this year, Greenwood submitted a change in their construction plans that led many to believe that they were trying to weasel their way out of building a permanent casino building, and thus leaving the current situation in place. The attempt was harshly rebuked by the horsemen and denied by the state gambling board. However, to me, any attempt to renege on their commitment to the horsemen and horseplayers of the state constitutes a matter of integrity. And again, Handel very well may not have been involved in making those decisions. But with so much emphasis on the matter of integrity, and with NYRA proposing to spend $125,000 a year in order to assure their own, I'm more than a little bit surprised that the association would reach out and add anyone, with any association to any alleged breach of integrity whatsoever, no matter how alleged it may or may not be.
- I'm going to eat crow at the bottom of this post, where maybe the pure racing readers may not have reached. I guess what Pletcher needed to break out of his slump was for me to write "Is Wait A While a complete throwout in the Ballston Spa, or what?" She was magnificent, powering home in 5.77 seconds, and it's great to have her back, and man, can you believe we let her go off at 3-1? My Typhoon was 6th at 7-5, and I would term her performance as "shocking." Not that I would have had the Pick Three with 32-1 Judge's Pride anyway.