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Friday, September 28, 2012

Bizarre Week for NYRA (About to get Worse?)

This has been a bizarre week in NYRAville, even for them.  (And, if this morning's story in the NY Times proves to be an accurate portrayal of the task force report on the Big A breakdowns, it's about to end even worse.)  Following the events earlier in the week (and detailed in the prior post), NYRA, during yesterday's card, quite suddenly announced the cancellation of Friday's. 

  Due to anticipated heavy rain, Friday’s live racing card at Belmont Park has been cancelled to ensure the track surfaces are in optimal condition for Saturday’s card, which features six graded stakes, all part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series. The winners of those races qualify for an automatic starting position in the corresponding Breeders’ Cup Championship race with pre-entry and entry fees paid.
  Well, initially I though this was quite unusual until the Form's David Grening pointed out via Twitter that "wet weather prompted Belmont to cancel day before Jockey Club Gold Cup card in 2008 and 2010."  So, there you go. This one still seems surprising though given that the chance of it even raining was only listed at 70%.  (It rained heavily here in Queens overnight, but the forecast calls only for intermittent rain the rest of the day.)  I'm not an expert on track maintenance by any, you tell me....I'm assuming that, by keeping the track sealed all day, they have a better chance to dry it out?

It's a big handle day, if not a big attendance day, with a $500K guaranteed pick four, so of course they want to keep as many horses on the track as possible; and they figure to lose some of the grass horses if the course becomes a quagmire.

I can't imagine that would give two hoots about the Breeders' Cup Challenge given the way the Breeders' Cup has shunned NYRA.  It's a big day there for TVG, the sponsor of the Jockey Club Gold Cup (though you'd have to consider Paul LoDuca and Christina, who will be on hand, more of a B or B+ team with the big guys no doubt getting prepared for Keeneland) (Simon Bray and Schrupp will be there too).  Maybe, with the long-awaited event on horse safety scheduled for Friday, they are overly sensitive about track safety and conditions with a larger audience than usual tuned in.  Or perhaps, in addition to a more pessimistic forecast from their crack meteorological team, Serling advised them that a Pick Six carryover would be likely.  Quite convenient it turned out that way.  (Would have been quite a prediction considering that the announcement was made between the 6th and 7th races with a 2-1 second choice and a 7-10 favorite having won the first two legs.)

Shortly after that news, I saw this article by James Odato in the Times Union
  Two years ago, the New York Racing Association's leaders commissioned a $250,000 mural that would immortalize them on the wall of the state's biggest thoroughbred track.  It's ready to be unveiled — even though it includes the image of a top NYRA official fired for alleged mismanagement of the racing franchise.
  Oh boy.  Well, it's true that here, Odato is doing what Odato does - trying to make NYRA look as bad as possible in the story lede.   Makes a painting that includes Charlie Hayward sound like the moral equivalent of the Joe Paterno statue.   When you read further though, we learn that, in fact, the mural includes 100 various racing figures including Hayward and Steven Duncker, who were included at the artist's behest.

Still, can't think of much to say in defense.  As I've mentioned before, and if you're new to the site, I don't profess to be completely objective about NYRA, nor do I feel obligated to do so.  I'm not a reporter, just a guy who has spent over 30 mostly happy years (no need to be more specific than that) going to their tracks on a regular basis.   But man, you really gotta wonder what they were thinking here.  I understand the context - if you've been to Belmont, you've probably seen the giant 100 foot mural representing the past century of New York thoroughbred racing.  This was to be a companion piece, representing the first ten years of the century (which really should have made it 10 feet, not 30).  Hayward and Duncker probably figured that NYRA was close to being awash in slot cash, so maybe nobody would notice and why not invest in an asset which figures to appreciate and therefore add to the value of the property.

However, under the intense scrutiny that NYRA has been under, cranked up to 11 since the current governor took office, you just gotta use your head and think things out!   How would this appear if - as in, when - it becomes public?  The commissioning of this mural was in direct violation to the Left at the Gate prime directive - Never do anything with the potential to end up being portrayed in a negative light by James Odato.  And besides, that's a material amount of money that maybe could have made Aqueduct just a bit more bearable this past winter.

 - In the 9th on Thursday, Shootdeworx ($14.20) got up in a four-horse blanket finish for trainer Ian Wilkes; his second winner in a row, and 4th from 9 starters for the meet.  This is the second of those winners to have last raced at Ellis Park (one on dirt, this one on grass); and the third winner from that track that I recall, out of not that many at all I'd imagine.  Gonna keep an eye out for that.  Wilkes next starter here is scheduled to be Fort Larned, the 7-2 second morning line choice in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday.  If Ron the Greek, who he beat by a length and a quarter in the Whitney, is ultimately favored, as indicated by his 5-2 morning line, because of the extra furlong, I think that would be a mistake. 


El Angelo said...

Well it's not just the extra furlong, it's that Fort Larned had a perfect trip in the Whitney while Ron the Greek was fanned about 12 wide in the stretch, by his barnmate, no less. I actually think Fort Larned will be a decent price, as I could see Ron the Greek, Flat Out and Hymn Book all taking more action.

Sal Carcia said...

Personally, as a non-NYer, I find the whole mural story to be much to do about nothing. I just don't find political crimes to be real crimes. I certainly don't see the victims of political assinations as criminals. As far as common sense goes, I have got to believe these guys knew they were doomed anyway.

Once again my blood pressure gets raised when the NY Times keeps talking about the history of mismanagement and fraud at the NYRA. It is more than a coicidence that most of the NYRA's problems started with the VLT licensing process and continues with the VLT subsidies. The politics were and are aimed at taking away the license and subsidies respectively from the NYRA and letting them be open to those companies that are willing to make sizeable political contributions.

Anonymous said...

When the world starts taking Peb's word as gospel it may be time to seriously consider space travel. Only O'Doto could continually quote him as a reliable source.

joe_depaolo said...

Hey Alan,

I mentioned on twitter yesterday that I had a couple of bones to pick with your post, and I didn't get a chance to elaborate, so I thought I'd do so now.

First, you took umbrage with Glaser (who I would concede seems to be a know-nothing re:racing) stating that NYRA wasn't performing to expectations. Well, this is the first year in eons that NYRA's going to post a profit - thanks, almost exclusively, to VLT revenue. I know that the state places a pretty heavy burden on the franchise. But I don't think expecting NYRA to turn a profit a is crazy notion. Unless it's being run by Donald Trump, I expect a gambling enterprise to make money.

Second, the more you made your case against CDI, the more I started to think they'd be a pretty damn good option. Yeah, they've definitely got work to do on the technology side, but I'd argue they're no further behind the times than the current NYRA. And I don't think you'd have to worry about the facilities being neglected. If "The Mansion" is any indication, the CDI folks are willing to pay a pretty penny to upgrade their properties.

Third, I believe the following to be true about Charlie Hayward:

1) He's a fundamentally decent man whose heart was in the right place.

2) He's a competent executive who knows the sport inside and out.

3) He does not have disregard or contempt for the horseplayer.

4) He had to go.

I don't believe there was larceny in his heart re: takeout-gate. I think he genuinely believed what he was doing was in the best interests of his customers. The problem is, it wasn't his call to make. The public had the right to know as soon as he knew. The fact that he didn't suggests, to me, that he believed his power over the organization was absolute.

That's the real issue of this thing, to me. I believe that Charlie Hayward thought he was deserving of complete autonomy. NYRA wasn't setup that way. Whether or not it's a flawed corporate structure is a legitimate debate. But Charlie Hayward shouldn't have been the one to make that call. Had he been allowed to continue, NYRA customers would've had the right to question what other things he and Kehoe, and Duncker et. al were doing, supposedly in their best interests, without public disclosure - like, say, the commission of a $250K mural.

You're as astute an observer of NY racing as there is, so I always respect your take on these matters. I just think you're of the "better the devil you know than the devil you don't" school of thought on this one, and I'm not. I believe there's a better way for this business to be run. And I hope we get to see it.

alan said...

Hey Angelo - Don't know if I would agree that Fort Larned had a perfect trip. He was wide both turns and attended a pretty solid pace. He ran sub-24 second quarters all the way to the 1/8th pole, which I don't think we see too often...and then wasn't ridden hard in the final 1/16th. Think this race figures to set up for him pretty well without much pace, and agree that he may be a fair price.

Sal Carcia said...

Joe D, I don't know Charles Hayward or anyone at the NYRA. My guess about Charles Hayward was that he spent his time at the NYRA trying to keep it running on a daily basis without any interruptions. This was despite the efforts of the Gov and legislature to not fund the organization properly in the interim before the the VLT license was approved. He did what was right for his people and racing. To me, he had to know that this would ultimately cost him his job. He might have underestimated how dirty it would end up.

alan said...

Hey Joe - Thanks for the comment.

First of all, we are in 100% agreement on Charlie Hayward on all points.

Regarding NYRA's profitability (or lack thereof) I think this all goes back to the structure of OTB, and the fact that NYRA receives a far, far lower share of the wagering revenue on money bet through OTB as compared to on track or NYRA Rewards. They've done a really good job compensating for the loss of NYCOTB by attracting the more lucrative on-track handle, something you don't see them credit for by the press or politicos. But the remaining OTB's still cannibalize their business. Having said that, it's not unfair to suggest that the business should be able to stand on it's own. They claim now to have an operating profit without slots....but that's not counting the "non-operating" expenses such as pensions. Hard to see how they would overcome that without slots revenue if the OTB's are never consolidated under a NYRA umbrella as is the case in other states. And I don't know who could without drastic cutbacks.

As far as CDI goes, my point was more that I don't think that would ever happen more than it shouldn't....but I don't think it should either! Maybe that's just provincial - the notion that New York racing should be subsumed into an out-of-state corporation for whom, as a public company, the bottom line is king, is offensive to me as a longtime racing fan here. As far as upgrading its properties, it's not a surprise that they would do so for their signature property that bears its name. And maybe they would indeed have the same respect for the NY tracks. But have they devoted any capital to the infrastructure at their other tracks? (I don't know, have they?)

August Song said...

Since when, did New York's politicians stop functioning in their flawed and corrupt ways? Boss Tweed, Rangel, Spitzer, Paterson, Silver, Meeks, Liu, Bruno, Smith, Espada, Seabrook, Kruger, Stein, Monserrate, Velella, Lopez, & McLaughlin want to know. There's a tradition to uphold. Cuomo is on the threshold.

Today's Belmont cancellation could also have been prompted by the fact they had five grass races scheduled. The card would have been decimated anyway.

jk said...

The crackdown on drugs is a good thing. Too bad they sat on the report until after Saratoga. Make the blue bloods sweat a little.
I wonder if the super trainers will be as super going forward.

The rest of it; re-bidding the franchise, casinos, convention centers etc is nothing more than a money grab by State.

Slap a new coat of paint on Aqueduct and Belmont and I might start to believe they care about the customers.

Anonymous said...

I haven't heard that Governor Cuomo signed the new horse racing Bill into law yet? Perhaps he is not under any pressure to call for and sign the Bill by October 1st as many have reported? Maybe this weekend...

So it is the failure of not having adequate regulatory systems in place that caused the death of those horses. I get it, just playing within the loopholes created by weak structure. The report compiled by a panel that sat(2)vets and a horsemen's representative, (talk about conflicts of interest Mr. Glaser) laid very little culpability on those that sell or order the drugs be administred to many lame athletes in competition. Better process will be good, but trainers, owners and vets must change their modus operandi when it comes to winning at all costs, especially the cost of the lives of our cheerished horse friends.