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Monday, December 18, 2006

Holiday Cheer in Short Supply

- It was a Big Bar Mitzvah weekend for the family. My sister, as she did for her older son, scheduled the service for Saturday afternoon and the party for 4PM Sunday evening, effectively turning the weekend into one long family affair. Nobody in my family - not one single person - reads this blog, so I could expose a lot of dirty secrets - or at least those known to me - and nobody would know.

But it was fine, even nice at times, despite being subjected to a lot of really bad music. I even managed to make it to the Big A for the last few races after returning home on Saturday. It was the last weekend before the annual Christmas break. It wasn't always like this; they used to race on Xmas Eve with an early post time. Originally conceived as an overdue break for horsemen and employees alike, now it also means five less days of NYRA losing money.

Unlike during final Big A weekends before holidays past, there were no jolly carolers roving around the clubhouse. Xmas decorations seemed sparse, and the Christmas village display that has for years greeted patrons as they entered through the clubhouse was gone. An electric menorah was set up near the lobby escalator with obvious haste. It was like on Friday, someone went "Oh shit...The menorah!" and got ten bucks from Charlie Hayward to run over to the Home Depot and pick one up. Between the unseasonably warm temperatures and the lack of holiday accoutrements, it felt more like Wood Memorial day that the run-up to the holiday break.

It's gotta be a tough time for NYRA employees. One can imagine that all of the uncertainty is making for a depressing holiday; and I'm assuming that the concept of holiday bonuses and salary reviews are not presently part of the corporate culture. I would also think that the relentless criticism of NYRA, in which public officials vilify the present organization for the sins of the past, must be wearying and demoralizing. Yet through it all, NYRA still runs a first class operation. The Big A is clean - the Equstrus level downright spotless - and I find that NYRA employees continue to be polite and professional, even downright cheery in many cases.

So here's a holiday shoutout to the men and women who are working under adverse conditions to keep the Big A a really cool place to come out and watch the races. Let's hope that their jobs will be safe no matter what transpires (Excelsior said in their proposal that they would be retained), and that at this time next year, they, and we, will know who'll be running the show after Dec 31, 2007. And that there will be a show to run.


Anonymous said...

Ah slots....what a Hobson's choice.

Went to Philly Park today to see firsthand what all the buzz has been about 2yo Hard Spun, winner of the PA Futurity today and now embarking on the same Derby trail blazed by little Smarty Jones.

Also wanted to be there for the last race w/o the slots as tomorrow is the grand opening. Was there when "Keystone" opened in 1974 watching a horse named Kettle River win the feature in front of 20K or so. Today 200 or so cheered home a nice looking horse (the image of his dams sire Turkoman). Handy score but I'm not waiting for the early book windows to open.

Don't know if anyone has ever been there but it has always been a dump. However, any resemblence today to a racetrack as we used to know one is purely coincidental. The only area of the grandstand left for the horseplayer is a small space off the paddock. 10 windows and a few small TV screens. I've shot pool in larger spaces. Otherwise, you need to head to the rooftop 5th level to find a seat.

The purses go up 40% the next book but a once beautiful experience is gone forever.

Bank Check

Alan Mann said...

Yeah, I used to go to Keystone back in 1980 and 81 when I lived in Philly. And yeah, it was a dump, but a pretty pleasant one. I saw the same thing on my visit to Yonkers today - the only place you can bet on the races and watch them live is up on the 4th floor of the clubhouse. The simulcast room there can't hold much more than 125 people I'd guess.

Anonymous said...

"(Excelsior said in their proposal that they would be retained)".
If I'm not mistaken, due to union contracts most of the rank and file NYRA employees will be kept on no matter who takes over track management. Speaking of Excelsior, this from today's Murray Chass article in the NY Times regarding Mr. Swindal's involvement with MLB and Excelsior and the Pirates majority owner's decision to withdraw his PA slots license application:

“We withdrew the application for slot machines because the rules in baseball are very clear,” Nutting said yesterday by telephone. “Rather than try to come up with a structure that maybe would have subverted the intent, we thought it was appropriate to respect the intent of the rule and withdrew.”

And if that wasn't enough news, yesterday Senator Bruno suggested that ALL the bids, even those disqualified, be revisited to "see a conglomeration of a lot of the best thinking . . . maybe you select them all."

What do you all think of that?

Anonymous said...

Late Scratch - Thanks for the info on the NYRA employees.

I read that column in the Times, and it will certainly be interesting to see what the commissioner does. Swindal feels that he's entitled to be "grandfathered" in given Steinbrenner's long-standing association with the sport. That association, of course, never included slot machines. Swindal seems very smug and unconcerned about this. We'll see.

As far as Bruno goes, I think the Senator is beginning to cover his tracks. The unfolding story about his relationship with the Empire investor Abbruzzese may make it difficult to throw his support behind them.

Anonymous said...

Mazel Tov on making the last few races at Aqueduct on Saturday, Alan.

Alan Mann said...

>>Mazel Tov on making the last few races at Aqueduct on Saturday, Alan.

Thanks. I thought you'd be proud of me.