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Thursday, May 17, 2007

This Strange Plan

- This strange
plan is random at best

This strange....
how much more can I take?

This strange
change in atmosphere
and in gravity too

- Built to Spill

Thus far, Tom Precious in Bloodhorse is the only one reporting on this strange plan being hatched by Governor Spitzer to close Aqueduct and sell it off, retain NYRA to run Saratoga, and pick someone else to run racing and slots (and the inevitable table games) at a winterized Belmont. So, maybe if we just ignore it, it will just go away.

But I doubt that. For one thing, Spitzer hinted at this a couple of weeks ago in a strange, rambling interview with the Troy Record which seemed to reveal not only his ignorance of the process thus far, but even of how an RFP works. At that time he said that some people "asked legitimate questions about the need for two downstate tracks."

Of course, the idea of selling Aqueduct is not new; it's been raised at various times over the last decade, and, in fact, initial steps to winterize Belmont have already been completed. And though it makes absolutely no sense from a sporting aspect, the idea of raising vast sums of money always makes sense to government, especially if it can be achieved via a simple land grab. The consequence would be an endless season at a track which could only be truly winterized if they put the entire massive complex on a rotating platform so that the front of the grandstand wasn't totally in the shade come the winter months.

My feelings toward Belmont are mixed. I love the beautiful park area, the stakes schedule, the high quality of racing (sometimes), the two lush grass courses. But I don't really care for the main track, which is just too damn big. There are no two turn races other than the Belmont, and the races all start far, far away on the backstretch. I don't really consider mile and an eighth races around one turn to be true distance tests. But it's the contrast between that and Aqueduct - the transition to two turn races back to one, and vice versa - the ying and the yang - that provides juicy handicapping angles that last throughout the racing year. The idea of an entire year of one turn dirt racing makes me go cold. When I contemplate the idea of being stuck inside that building watching December $12,500 claimers starting on the other side of Nassau County in the same monotonous routes, I'm thinking hell, I might as well just go to Yonkers. I can change the name of this blog to something like They're Off....Offstride!

I wonder too if any of the bidders would agree to such an arrangement. After all, they're SO interested in the racing part; Empire especially, who promised the Saratoga horse park and all sorts of new development there. Don't you think it would expose the bidders' hypocrisy if they still agreed to become strictly a downstate operator of a racino in Elmont?

Of course, there will be objections from the racing community, and legal issues, such as NYRA's claim that they own the land, and the matter of the intent of the original donors to have the land go to charity should it cease being used for racing. So I won't turn in my parking sticker just yet. But to me, this is an ominous turn in the proceedings; one which would have been moot by now had Pataki let the Lottery Division approve the racino. On the other hand, maybe this is exactly what he had in mind all along.

And it's strange,
but not all that strange
that it's strange,
but what's so strange
about that?

Yeah it's strange
but what isn't strange...


Anonymous said...

Alan, only politicians could come up with something like this; selling off the Big A would be a Big Mistake! Let's stick with the RFP and get on with awarding the franchise to Excelsior.

El Angelo said...

Well, the obvious solution to winterize Belmont is Polytrack.

Anonymous said...

This plan would pretty much also doom Saratoga as we know it - they'd be running for AT LEAST three months at the Spa. No way they run 10 1/2 months at Belmont and 6 weeks at Toga. Like many others I feel the shortness of the meet is part of what makes it special, but then, governor steamroller obviously could give a rat's ass for the historic/aesthetic/sporting value of Saratoga, 'cuz it's all about the one-armed bandits, baby! Yeah! Keep that regressive taxation comin'! Why stop at having them at Belmont? I say, slots everywhere! In the schools, at every bus stop and on every subway platform (I mean, what is more boring than waiting for a bus or a train, wouldn't you love the chance to pass that time with a few pulls of the magic machines?)... they're the answer to all our fiscal problems, people, hallelujah! do your part, feed the machines and raise up this state to the promised land of eternal solvency!

By the way, if NYRA has Toga only, do they get a cut of the belmont slots revenue - hush money, as it were - for purses? Or are they on their own?

Well, I guess this is a good chance for the guv to kill at least two birds with one stone - get NYRA to give up the land-claim ghost by giving them Toga and forgiving all their debts w/proceeds from AQU sale, and keep at least one gang of lobbyist/shills (and potential future campaign contributors) happy by awarding one of the other bidders "The Slots Emporium at Belmont Park (pssst, we also have horsie races, but we're tryin' to keep that on the QT)".

One final question and I'll shut up...Does this grand plan stand up if the courts settle the land claim in NYRA's favor?

Anonymous said...

"Yeah it's strange
but what isn't strange"

I just 'broke loose' from Capital Play's party in Saratoga. Great food and drink - no people (well, lots of event planners and advertising peoplewalking around.) CP showed alot of meaningless video - basically showing young women and drinking, not so much racing. Then our group lost interest in seriously concerning Capital Play when O'Farrell stated "....we plan on having lots of younger women at the track, because as we all know, the men will follow..." Alot of Standardbred talk...Meaningless graphs - with no real definitions..."We are giving the most money", We're global" "We will raise purses 265% over five years." "Breeding will be up 700%...." We left.

Alan Mann said...

>>Does this grand plan stand up if the courts settle the land claim in NYRA's favor?

Well, then Spitzer wouldn't be calling the shots. But I suppose then NYRA could do the same anyway. And I agree that the Saratoga meeting would no doubt be extended at some point.

And thank you Anonymous for that report on the Capital Play meeting. Not surprised to hear about Standardbred talk, because they have a NY harness outfit involved with them in some way. Pretty funny about the younger women - maybe they would have ladies' nights with free Foster's. Did anyone ask about their proposed takeout increases?

Anonymous said...

The Standardbred person was the CEO of "Blue Chip Farms" in Ulster County, NY. He said that he buys 1 million dollars worth of local hay/year. He has upgraded the farm by pumping in 35 million dollars .....and that he plans to be the biggest Thoroughbred breeder. The rest of the Standardbred people were Plainfield Asset Management - a hedge fund formed in 2005- owning several harness tracks and four WY OTBs.

Anonymous said...

Good to hear Capital Play trying something new to our forlorn industry. Seemingly works. Last year I went to a couple of major AustralianMeetings. They're packed, with young types. Gives a
Joie de vivre,
that is catching, and that we certainly need. For my vintage, they have wheel chair ramps too.
Hell, if their proposal can legally offer, so much return, they've got my vote, as I haven't heard a serious independent argument with their numbers.

Anonymous said...

Yes I've also been to Australian major races recently - leaves us for dead.
They bring in the whole shooting box, media cameras everywhere, fashion parades, singers, between races, one big party time. Capital Play maybe on the right track more than we think.
Unfortunately that previous comment magnifies the reason why we're in the shit. Going to any of the bidders functions and only remembering "great drink & food", without intelligently, commenting on the in's & out's of what each proposal entails, cries out why racing is going down here, a one way street. He wants to be entertained, without knowing how his toy horse works, fair enough.
But isn't that who Capital Play & Wynn especially, are targeting. I hope they're Trojans.

Anonymous said...

It's nice that Capital Play references all the good in Australia racing. Too bad they had nothing to do with it. Just remember - they don't run a racetrack there - they are only a bookie joint.

I might work in a car wash, but that doesn't mean I can tell you how to run a auto manufacturing plant.

Harl said...

Heh, I have a buddy who's not really into racing, but will always tag along to the Keeneland meet when we head down there because he loves all the young, beautiful ladies that come out for that event.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I have to leave a comment on this. I'm a woman who has lived in Manhattan for 30 years, and while I'm no longer in the sweet young thing category, I can see some difficulties with Capital Play's plan. Just exactly HOW do they intend to lure young New York women to Belmont? This is not Australia, this is New York. No self-respecting young woman is going to hop onto the LIRR and blow a day at the track unless there is a good reason to go. (I happen to love it, but I'm the exception.) Discount designer bags and shoes? A spa, perhaps? But the biggest draw of all would be men, men, men, and not just your average slob. Nice men with good jobs. Women outnumber men here in Manhattan, and they're always on the lookout. Oh, and that comment about Belmont becoming the corporate dining room of Manhattan? I almost spit out my pan-seared Atlantic salmon with Israeli couscous and baby bok choy when I read that. No Manhattanite is going to Belmont to eat when a 3-block walk or a ten-minute cab ride can bring him to any number of truly excellent restaurants. Where do they come up with these ideas? It shows they don't know the area, they don't know the market. It's very, very tough here.

Anonymous said...

Is this column for armchair idiots.
I own a couple of potential glue horses and have recently studied the Australian sponsorship programs
whereby the horsemen, trainers even the hobby horse owners like myself receive satisfactory continuance
monies if our expensive pursuits don't come last.
It's easy to post negative comments but it's detrimental to all of us who really love this sport. Give Capital Play and the rest of them a chance to weave through the ever changing bureaucracy landscape. They've all put their monies up front. At least a few of their NY board have hands on experience in officiating successful racetrack operations.
And due respects to that Manhattan lady of 30 years local experience, but our age groups won't pay the bills. Look at who the major financial and media and even the casinos presently target - the youth.