- In September of 1980, Spectacular Bid ran unopposed in the Woodward Stakes at Belmont, the last walkover of any significance to occur in New York State. Until now. 27 years later, in the end it was NYRA in a walkover. This was due of course in great part to the land claim that this governor didn't seem to want to bother to contest. But also because in this case, there were no other Bids that seemed the least bit Spectacular.
Empire Racing, for all their arrogance and childish vitriol directed at their rivals, proved to be far more incompetent and cynical than those they accused of being the same. They said that "New York racing should be run by New Yorkers," yet would have contracted 100% of its management services and half of its simulcast revenues to out-of-state corporations, including our benevolent friends at TrackNet Media. And the Inspector General's report offered a seedy version of how the supposedly non-partisan Friends of New York racing grew to become Empire Racing; one, I might add, that has not yet had one shred disputed or refuted by any of the parties involved as far as I've seen. The fact that they continue to issue attack press releases and carry on as if they weren't unceremoniously dumped by the NYTHA is just unbelievable to me. The mainstream press can only handle a certain amount of alleged scandals I suppose, and this story isn't nearly significant enough to gain any traction. It shows you how people can act with impunity when operating in a media vacuum, and I have to honestly say that I think they have a lot of fucking nerve.
Excelsior earned its recommendation from the Ad Hoc Committee (remember that?) with a well-crafted proposal with a lot of detail and initiative if not any particularly innovative ideas. It also had the Steinbrenner family and its media holdings behind it, and some street cred with Jerry Bailey aboard for the ride. But Excelsior's hopes essentially ended on an early February morning when er....(this guy has disappeared from the scene so quickly and completely, I had to look up his name, seriously!!)...yeah, Steve Swindal, that's it....was arrested for drunk driving in St. Petersburg, Florida. Shortly thereafter, the Boss' daughter filed for divorce, Swindal was out in the Bronx, and the Steinbrenners were gone from Excelsior. I think they lost a lot, if not all their panache at that point, and the comedic appearance by Steve Wynn before the Rifkin Committee certainly didn't help. With no racing experience to speak of on the team, they became a non-starter, at least for that side of the equation.
I don't think Capital Play, despite their enormous financial backing and a credible list of stateside investors, were ever really in the race. I can't imagine that any governor or legislature would have awarded the franchise to a foreign-held entity, even if they had the best proposal. They may have made the highest financial offer (and a large increase in takeout) as they say - I stopped paying attention to all the counter-offers long ago and just presume that they were all offering boatloads of money (don't want to curse twice in one post). I have to admit that I found their stated central goal of reviving the live sport to be appealing and that I did get a sense that there was some genuine enthusiasm to do so. But the idea of turning Aqueduct and Belmont into teeming single bars, while apparently successful in Australia, is just unlikely to fly here no matter how many giant banners they hang from buildings.
So we're left with NYRA, which hardly made a bid at all; just went through the motions, as if conserving something for the home stretch. Charlie Hayward will be criticized by some for giving up the land claim, and thereby selling out the racing franchise to the state in order to remain in place. Without knowing the details of the negotiations and legal proceedings (transparency, my ass), I can't really form an opinion on that. Who knows, maybe NYRA's lawyers believed that the state's case was rock solid and were flabbergasted when the state started to relent. Perhaps they were giddy to get anything in return, no less 30 years and a complete bailout! And besides, it's hard to criticize people for playing the game and fighting to hold on to what they have. If the state thought it had a compelling case, which Spitzer seemed to believe a few months ago, then it was up to it to pursue the land, if, in theory, it felt the industry would benefit. If the state had succeeded, they'd sure be getting a lot more in annual lease money than three bucks! Really, it would be a lot to ask of a man in Hayward's position, on the cusp of a success few could have foreseen just a year ago, to jeopardize a deal by refusing to drop the land claim for the good of the sport in New York. Perhaps at least he did us all a service by making sure that none of the other three prevailed.
- Check out this video from Common Ground (hat tip to the Albany Times Union's Capitol Confidential blog).
- From the NY Daily News, here's a statement by Bruno:
"The Senate's priority is to ensure the strongest racing industry possible," Bruno said in a press release. "That's why the Legislature and Executive put a process in place two years ago to determine who would be best suited to run a world-class horse racing industry. Unfortunately, Governor Spitzer bypassed that process and, with just four months until the current franchise expires, his announcement today still leaves more questions than answers."