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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Compensations and Ironies

Had to laugh when I saw the headline: NYRA plans to offer a $550,000 package to new CEO; that considering the fuss over Charlie Hayward's salary, variously reported to be a base of $460,000 to "at least $475,000" (from the chronic NYRA-critic Jim Odato).  Then I saw it's more nuanced than that - $300,000 in base and another $250,000 in incentives; structured in a way to keep the hypocrisy shaded by.....well, more hypocrisy. 

This package is despite the fact that a search firm hired by the compensation committee advised that the CEO job likely would be worth $600,000 to $1.1 million in annual compensation; an explicit acknowledgment that Hayward not only wasn't making too much, but that he was significantly underpaid.

Well, anyway, good luck with that.  I have it on good authority that the search is focused on three people.  And though I can't tell you who they are, I can tell you that none of them are named David Paterson, John Sabini, Marshall Cassidy, Hazel Dukes, Richard Dutrow, Isiah Thomas, Fred Armisen, Bobby Valentine, Scott Brown, Mitt Romney, Tagg Romney, or Barclay Tagg.  And that they are all white men.  Wo, big surprise there.

Additionally at yesterday's board meeting, David Grening of the Form reports:

..Board member Bobby Flay said he was asked by Breeders' Cup officials to ask the NYRA board about its "appetite" to host the 2014 Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park.
  I'd be curious to know how the conversation at Breeders Cup went, when they decided which shadowy back channel to go through to get an answer to a very straightforward and logical question.  "Oooo, lets ask Bobby Flay what's cooking."  Maybe someone should send them the name of the chairman of the board?

NYTHA president Rick Violette was amongst the board members opposed to hosting a non-Lasix Breeders Cup. 
  "Horsemen would certainly have an issue with banning Lasix....Our fundamental position is most, if not all, horses bleed. Lasix is an effective agent in controlling it, if not stopping it."
  And that surely brings us in an ironic full circle.  When NYRA hosted its first Breeders Cup, at Aqueduct in 1985, Lasix was still banned in New York.  Now people are opposed to the BC being here if it is banned at the event.

And outgoing president/COO Ellen McClain told the board that NYRA needs to operate off track wagering facilities in NYC (I prefer not to use the term 'OTB'.)  While NYRA does, and has always, had the right to operate up to eight facilities, Ms. McClain said that "We'd like to be in 40 restaurants in three years. We think we can do that and do it well."  I'm sure they can. 

But here, our friend irony strikes again.  Because, if I'm not mistaken, it was, in part, Charlie Hayward's desire to move forward with a similar restaurant plan which made him hesitant to acknowledge that NYRA could (and should) have returned the takeout to the level below the temporary 1% increase; the snafu (under his mistaken belief that NYRA had the option rather than the obligation to do so) that caused his ouster and this whole mess of a NYRA board in the first place.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Still Dealing With It

Last week, NYRA formally announced the formation of the Equine Safety Review Board, one of the "key recommendations" of the task force that reported on the spate of breakdown on the inner track last year.    If I'm not mistaken, the toll at the current meet stands at seven in 35 days (not counting heart attacks and non-racing-related infections, of which there's been one each).

At that rate, now that the NYRA Reorganization Board has shortened the inner track racing season by six days - under the utterly ridiculous (as eloquently explained by Steve Crist) guise of a safety measure - I figure they have saved the life of 1.2 horses.  For one thing, that proves that the new Board is indeed completely independent of Governor Cuomo who, behind closed doors, I imagine couldn't really care less about the fate of a mere 1 1/5 horse as opposed to the revenue that may be lost to the state.

And secondly, wow, think of how many horses they can save if they just don't race at all.  Now, we wouldn't want that, would we?  However, if it is really true that, as Anthony Bonomo, the Chairman of the Equine Safety Committee of the Board, suggested between Bobby Flay's comedic monologues at the last meeting of the Board, "one injury or fatality is too many," then what really is the alternative?  I mean, it's an admirable thought.  However, given the nature of thoroughbred racing in this country, in which horses are gunned at full speed into hairpin turns on hard dirt surfaces, it's completely unrealistic.  What is an "acceptable" number of fatalities?  Don't know, but it surely is more than one.  And I'd venture to say that it's well north of the four or five high school kids who die playing football each year.

It's not only totally unrealistic in my opinion, it's an attitude that is actually dangerous to the future of this sport.  As long as racing entities such as the NYRA Board remains obsessed with unattainable goals and wallows in self-despair after reading the latest entry of Death and Disarray at Racetracks in the Times, nothing is ever going to be done towards innovation and towards marketing the game (other than perhaps installing a Banana Republic outlet at Belmont).  NYRA can have their Safety Board, they can conduct their nationwide search for an Equine Veterinary Medical Director, and spend money and resources to have full necropsies performed on every dead animal.....and what do you think they will find and conclude?  Maybe I'm wrong, and they'll find some underlying and correctable thread, be it cheating or drugs or some other strand of evil or circumstance.  But I'd bet a dollar five dollars to a donut that they will conclude that, in general, horses die for little other reason than that human beings, in their endless pursuit of money and merriment (in no particular order), put them at risk by strapping on a saddle, giving a jock a leg up, and sending them out to run on a track.

I don't mean to be insensitive.  But it's a tough world out there.  Corporations routinely make conscious decisions to enhance their bottom line without regard for the consequences to human lives.  Life seems cheap to gun owners who fight back against even the most incremental steps against the most extreme weapons, even in the wake of a massacre of grade school kids.  Innocent people die in drone attacks, and we say 'oops, sorry' and hand them a check.

And, animals?  Ha.  We breed them to perform, to exhibit in cages, to slaughter for our nourishment or for scientific research to extend our own lives.  We hunt and kill them for absolutely no reason other than to amuse ourselves.

The luckier domestic ones who we breed to provide us with companionship are exempted from these cruel fates.  Racehorses?  I suppose they fall somewhere in between.  The vast majority of them are treated with tender loving care and seem to lead good lives.  Nonetheless, the fact is that they are brought onto this earth strictly for us to exploit for our own selfish purposes.  If we really cared about their welfare, then, short of letting them run free in a field, we'd ban all dirt racing and race strictly on grass, rid ourselves of the ridiculous (and destructive) obsession with speed, and race as they do in other countries - on kinder grass surfaces, in races in which they spend most of the time jockeying for position and run hard only towards the end.  And that ain't gonna happen, as we know.  Because it doesn't suit our financial needs nor the 'tradition' that causes so many people to be closed-minded in many respects.

So, if you are a racing enthusiast, you have bought into this.  And, when these unfortunate, and again, in my own estimation, unavoidable accidents happen, then, as I wrote the morning after the Eight Belles tragedy that has altered this game more than any other single event in this century, deal with it.  Or, find something else to do.  That's the way it is, in my view.  I don't think it makes the game of horse racing evil; it's just the way it is.

I was teasing my friend Teresa over a comment she made on Twitter, and, as an animal lover, she responded, with respect to her way of dealing with conflicted feelings about the sport:  "With full awareness. And some denial. And maybe hypocrisy, and a lot of ambivalence."  I suppose many of us feel that way to some extent, but I don't at all begrudge those who either don't give it a second thought, or shun the sport entirely.  To each, his or her own.  Horse racing is a sport that's on the edge; a bit of a scoundrel's game.  And that's always been part of the appeal as far as I'm concerned. Damn, it was a hell of a lot more fun when we just accepted it for what it is.