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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Few Things

A few things:

We went to the reception for the Aqueduct Murals on Saturday night.  I've been at the Big A too many times to even speculate on the number, and can't recall a more interesting, unusual, and bizarre visit.  Interesting because the art is quite fantastic.  Not gonna post photos here (except for one, below) because you can see them elsewhere and I have other things to get to in the short time before we all get gobbled up by the holiday.  The three-sided piece by Chris Stain is worth the price of admission getting there itself.  Located in what was previously the grim passageway to the racino side behind the paddock, it's an epic three-sided work that is poignant and powerful, inviting one in to become part of the grand history of the sport that it evokes, as if its better days were not so long ago.

Unusual because when's the last time you were at an art opening, complete with DJ and a wine/beer bar (two drinks for a nominal contribution of $5 to benefit the TAKE2 Second Career Thoroughbred Program) on the first floor of the Big A?  Nice wine too, with a generous pour.  And there was a vodka and scotch tasting to boot!  

Bizarre because the track was also open for the late night simulcasting.  So there was an odd mixture of the hardest of hardcore horseplayers, along with the artsy crowd.  I saw some who were obviously there for the event wandering warily amongst the betting crowd to see the murals; and a few bettors taking advantage of a rare good deal on alcohol.  But mostly the groups kept comfortably to themselves, not quite sure what to make of each other.  A NYRA official told me that there was discussion of shutting down the simulcasting, but that he would have none of that!  Great decision.  It added a bit of a performance art aspect to the affair!

 - On the same night, the first racing program was conducted at the new Meadowlands grandstand, and an overflow crowd of 15,000 packed the joint!  Made for some hassles getting in from what I've read; the parking lot seemed small and people apparently had to shuttle bus over from the other side.  People seemed impressed with the Victory Sports Bar and Nightclub, which wasn't open when I was there last Friday.  As I mentioned, it was no frills, first-floor only for the simulcast, so I have an open mind for a night of live racing, especially when the rooftop lounge is open next spring.  I read one customer comment about the outdoor seating - 1,800 of them according to this guy - and how they will go to waste during the cold weather months.  If that number is true - and there did seem to be quite a bit - and the total seating capacity is 2,200, that doesn't leave many seats from which to watch the races live during the winter.

But I have an open mind, as I've said, and I'm looking forward to checking it out.  (I'll probably have to book a table at the fancy-schmanciest restaurant choice in order to get the Head Chef there on the racing nights while they're limited to Fri-Sat.)

 - It seemed that everyone on Twitter was all-a-twitter over the piece that owner/breeder Arthur Hancock III wrote last week for The Paulick Report. If you missed it, here it is.  In brief, Hancock calls for the federal government to get with the program and, exercising its power to regulate interstate commerce (as per the out-of-state simulcasting permitted by the Insterstate Horseracing Act) crack down on abusers, as they did with Michael Vick for engaging in dog fighting.  I think I got that right, yes? This appeal was in conjunction with the annual exercise of industry folks appearing before a House Committee and begging to be regulated by the federal government, as if they are unwilling, unable, or just disinclined to do something themselves about drugs, and, worse yet, as if federal regulation would be some kind of magic elixir that would make the cheaters disappear.

OK, four points on Hancock's piece.  First of all, other than the fact that they both involve animals, I don't really see an analogy between dog fighting, an illegal exercise of, by nature, deliberate cruelty and intended death to an animal beloved and treasured as a family pet by tens of millions, and cheating by a distinct minority involved in the legal sport of horse racing.  I mean, if you equivocate the two, then maybe you should be reading a PETA blog instead of this one.  Secondly, if Hancock is trying to make the point that federal regulation has brought relief to these animals beyond the single, high-profile arrest he cites, then you should Google "dog fighting" under 'News' and see how totally out of control the practice apparently is.

Third, Tom Noonan points out in his latest post that the arrests at Penn National by federal agents is really exactly what Hancock is calling for - a federal prosecution of suspected drug cheaters by virtue of the interstate commerce clause of the IHA.  So maybe he didn't have to spend the time writing it.

Finally, and worst of all, is this:
According to the New York Times, every week in the United States, 24 Thoroughbred horses die while racing and countless others are broken down and maimed for the rest of their lives because they are being drugged to enhance their performance.
Ah yes.  The already well-worn New York Times' 24-a-week stat.  The funny thing about that statistic is the way that number has become a mantra of sorts, both for the Times and for those who cite it to make a point.....while what has apparently been forgotten in the 20 months since the first of the Death and Disarray articles, is that the Times compiled breakdown information based on terms searched for in chart comments, including those like "vanned off" and "lame" that don't necessarily mean death or serious injury.  I don't know if the Times has ever been exactly clear what the 24 is based on.

But in any event, hasn't anyone ever done a basic reality check on that number?  I haven't seen one.  It's easy to do, we can do it right here.  I counted 85 race cards from last Saturday through Friday (not counting Woodbine, you don't get to play!);  I'll round that up to 90, figuring that some tracks that normally run on Thursday don't on Thanksgiving.  Let's say that the cards average nine races of eight horse fields - which I'd guess is an overestimation, but let's do that to be conservative relative to my point.  That's 72 horses times 90 cards = 6,480 horses.  If 24 of those die, that makes the rate 1 in 270 starts.  That's as opposed to the 2 in 1000 starts statistic which I think is generally accepted as a ballpark figure - 1.92 in 1000 was the 2012 rate according to the Jockey Club.  1 in 270 translates to 3.7 in 1,000, which is almost twice the Jockey Club's number.

So I'm calling bullshit on the Times and their 24-a-week stat, and I welcome anyone to prove me wrong, I'd be happy to acknowledge that if so.  And people like Arthur Hancock III, as well-intentioned as he may be, are spreading misinformation when they cite it as fact.  I know that there are those who root Drape on, think he's a crusader for cleaning up the sport.  You won't think he's so great when you're watching some government hearing on banning horse racing and people are testifying how the Times says that 24 horses a week die while racing.  Think I'm exaggerating (or being hysterical)?  Yes, I am.  But it's a valid point that misinformation in the New York Times is capable of leading to consequences profoundly worse that horses getting doped.

 - And finally, and as long as I'm crabby, here's an article about the situation in Saratoga, where, as we've reported, opponents of a casino at the harness track are well-organized and armed with what they consider to be a mandate from the clear defeat of the casino referendum in the city of Saratoga Springs.  However, Saratoga Raceway principal James Featherstonawilsonhaughsmithandwessonstein seems unimpressed.  And undaunted:
"We believe we have the best site: historically, economically, socially and in every other way in our region.....And we expect with the help of our friends and colleagues in Saratoga and in consultation with the community to make a bid that brings the casino license to our facility." [Albany Times Union]
Well, there's a big flip of the bird to the voters and the community there. As I've been saying, this thing is in the bag for the Saratoga harness track by virtue of a backroom deal between Cuomo and the NYGA, and it will take quite a tide of opposition to undo what already is done if this guy is not interested in how the community feels.  Have a great Thanksgiving everyone.


Figless said...

Finally a reason to actually go to the Big A, will check them out Saturday along with the great racing, just hope the track dries out by then.

Sal Carcia said...

I really enjoyed your description of the Aqueduct event. The coming together of the NY arts community and the simo crowd sound like a priceless moment. I believe that the three pillars of success for a horsetrack are having a quality product, making the customer feel special and connecting to the community in a unique way. This idea of connecting back to New Yorkers through art is interesting.

I don't believe the catastrophic number came from the charts. It came from a database. I can't remember which one, but I'll check around.

SaratogaSpa said...

The "24" # will be just another statistic that if repeated often enough becomes true, so thanks for calling it out as BS now. I also wonder of the "24" # includes quarterhorse and standardbred racing deaths? You don't expect Drape to differentiate do you?

Nick Kling said...


Jockey Club stats for 2012=approx 780 deaths during races, leaving approx 468 to die during training hours to make up 1248.

The bottom line? It's probably more than 24/wk

Sal Carcia said...

I checked the JC database and came up with similar (to Nick K) results (718 in 2012) for deaths related to the running of races. That amounts to 13 deaths per week.

Since that database does not include all racetracks and training related deaths, it's not too difficult to agree with the 24 per week number.

jk said...

Interesting article says Saratoga Springs voters were against the passage of pari mutual wagering in 1939!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

All of which brings us to 1939, which was when — a sharp-eyed reader points out — New Yorkers voted on a constitutional amendment on whether to legalize parimutuel betting on horse racing.

As noted in the excerpt above from a November 8, 1939 New York Times article headlined “Pari-mutuel bill wins by 500,000,” Saratoga Springs voted against that, too, by a margin of 3-1 amid fears that it might kill the track.

Figless said...

"24 Thoroughbred horses die while racing and countless others are broken down and maimed for the rest of their lives because they are being drugged to enhance their performance."

Its the latter presumption with which I take issue, the cause and effect, that they are breaking down because they are being drugged. Horses break down, sadly, always have, perhaps some because they are "being drugged to enhance their performance", but certainly not all.

They break down in the allegedly squeaky clean Euro racing as well.

Figless said...

And more die in slaughterhouses in a month than die on the racetrack in a year, and the Feds are allowing the US slaughter houses to open again, so lets put them in charge of racing, hypocrites.

ljk said...

I think that you might want to differentiate between a vote against any casinos in NY and a vote for or against placing an already legalized casino at the raceway. I’m not sure how the community would respond, but you have to admit they are two different questions.