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Thursday, August 23, 2007

On Hiring Handel

- 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.

14 Comments:

Anonymous said...

Every track Hal Handel has been a senior executive with experienced a marked decline in business.....Monmouth, Meadowlands, Atlantic City, Keystone, etc. A can't imagine a worse choice.

affirmedny said...

Handel is a hack, as we've known in New Jersey for years. Not a friend of the bettor, that's for sure.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to disagree with the previous opinions, but Hal Handel is a first rate racing executive who will make a positive impact on NYRA...who, by the way, suddenly have the best management team in all of racing. Look at his full body of work, not just a few sound bites.

Between yesterday's appointment, the endorsement by the Saratoga group, and the strong Saratoga meet, it suddenly looks like NYRA is the front runner in the franchise renewal process.

Anonymous said...

NYRA does appear the front runner, and now is acting very confidently. Back to business as usual. 125k/month no bid integrity contract to politically connected law firm is a joke.

For 1.5 million they could hire five experienced internal auditors and ten retired NYPD officers, FULL TIME.

Will G&G do a better job than that potential team?

Other then setting up an integrity tip hotline and writing an annual report praising NYRA's integrity, what exactly is their job description?

Are they independent? Is it not a conflict of interest to be an integrity monitor while under contract for such a large sum? Do they even have a daily presence at the track?

Anonymous said...

"the best management team in all of racing" That's an indication of what's wrong with our sport. Handel is going to be paid $400K per year, Getnick, who as the "integrity counsel" should be telling NYRA they are required to bid his contract, gets a potential $7.5 million over the five year term of his contract. All of this money is coming not from a thriving racing operation but from NYS taxpayers. NYRA owes somewhere in the neighborhood of $400million! This "best management team" doesn't pay it taxes,employee pension payments, vendors or horsemen. The premier track in the country can't even get a good crew to run the starting gate for the premier race meet in the nation. They've increased purses also with taxpayer funds and they are bankrupt. The endorsement by the concerned citizens of Saratoga is also a joke -- their paid PR man is a member of the group! They are counting on Governor Spitzer and his clueless racing advisor Richard Rifkin ("The Governor has no plan for racing...") picking them and then having NYRA pick Richard Fields to run the VLTs. People used to complain about Pataki, but lately he's looking like Abe Lincoln compared to Spitzer's Warren Harding. It's time to take a chance on change.

affirmedny said...

>>Anonymous said...
Sorry to disagree with the previous opinions, but Hal Handel is a first rate racing executive who will make a positive impact on NYRA...


He left NJ racing in a shambles and just left a position where they have to end racing at 4pm on weekends to accomodate slot players and herd the horseplayers to a hole on the 5th floor. Yeah, this is the guy we want....

Anonymous said...

In fairness to Handel, isn't it just possible that he left Slot Machine Downs because he couldn't get the cheap creeps that own the place to spend a dime.

Just a few months ago it was announced that he was changing positions at Philly. Instead of running the place he was being shunted back to NJ, supposedly to develop their OTB's. Doesn't sound like a promotion to me.

Also, his new position is predicated on NYRA keeping the franchise. While that seems probable now it's no sure thing. If it doesn't happen, he's unemployed. I think you can take that as a measure of how badly he wanted to get away from Philly.

It was never a very good racetrack and now it's just a place full of slot machines and the kind of people that slot mchines attract.

Eric said...

***From June 24, 07 Baltimore Sun***

"In Pennsylvania, slots backers made many of the same arguments Maryland's racing industry has about the need for slots at the tracks, but horsemen there say they feel they've been betrayed.

Philadelphia Park is the only thoroughbred track in the state that has begun a combined slots and racing operation. When the track's owners applied for a slots license, they promised a new $300 million casino. As a temporary move, they squeezed horse betting operations into the fifth floor of the grandstand and turned the rest of the space over to slots.

But barely six months after the slot machines came online, the track's owners were back before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board asking to be released from their commitment to build the casino and free up betting space for racing again.

"It was a real bait and switch," said Michael P. Ballezzi, executive director of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "They're more interested in providing their gaming product in the form of the casino and not in the racing product. The racing product is on the back shelf. ... It's gotten to be something in the way of the casino, and that's not what we bargained for."

Sounds like Handel did not want to be a part of Philly Park anymore so he left for "greener pastures" even if it is only for 6 months.

Anonymous said...

Someone in NY needs to do a thorough investigation into Handel's Philadelphia Park legacy before he is crowned King of NY Racing. In fact, the media should venture down to Philadelphia Park and have a look see at failed racing and slots integration, a non-existant live racing customer experience, and a backside that is deplorable. Then, ask Hal Handel to explain.

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