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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Big A Under Siege

 - I wrote about No Nay Never and the Swale, as well as the Gotham, in my Today in Racing post on the TimeformUS blog here.

The News reported last Friday that the robberies at Aqueduct were an inside job; and of course they were.  Or of course they were at least something other than your run-of-the-mill break in.  It just seemed too weird that the paper's 'The Big A is a den in disrepair' story first appeared on February 22, and then the next day we're reading about Breeders' Cup trophies and TV monitors disappearing.  The latter were taken from an office that I'm told would be more easily accessible to Spiderman.  Surely seemed like part of an effort by someone for some reason to contribute to the portrayal of the Big A as a lawless place.

To be honest, I didn't even read the News article when it first came out. I've been following the exploits of Jerry Bossert and the pigeon droppings over his head in the press box, and in the stairwells, and pretty much knew what to expect.  And given the timing, I figured it was little more than an attempt to exploit the sexual attack that occurred in a bathroom - a horrific but, given the general lack of crime at New York racetracks over the years, a totally isolated incident - and create a news story where there really isn't one.

Of course, that didn't prevent some Assemblyman - flanked by burly union guys for some reason I'm not sure of (unless maybe they know where the Breeders Cup trophy is) - from going to the clubhouse and grandstanding for NYRA to put more money into the facility.  He told us how the Big A is a "serious danger." (I don't seem to recall him appearing on the racino side to warn of the danger of flying bodies after the recent suicide there.) But, don't be too mad; he was just doing what politicians in New York have always done - use NYRA as a whipping boy, generate some good sound bites to use the next time he's up for re-election.  And you thought we wouldn't see that anymore now that Governor Cuomo took over?

Well, the situation with the pigeon droppings that Bossert had been complaining about all meet sounds disgusting, surely a health hazard, and I'm glad that NYRA finally remedied the situation to his satisfaction. And I surely agree with the sentiment that the track, in its present state, reduced to a clubhouse just a fraction of the size of the original plant, and without any major renovations in a couple of decades, is depressing.

But let's be clear: It's easy to take a photo of a single dirty table, a leak in the roof, some paint peeling from a ceiling - hardly uncommon sights in any facility the size and age of Aqueduct - put them in an article that calls a place "dirty," and create the impression that the entire place is in similar condition.  Aqueduct may be called many things; besides depressing, there's dowdy, drab, dingy; they would all be fair.  But the public areas are not dirty.  That's not at all why I don't go there as much as I used to.  My issue is that all of my old haunts have, over the year, been either shuttered entirely or filled with the desk seating that makes them much less appealing, to me.  There's just no good place to hang out.

But it's not dirty (and again, at least not in the areas that the public frequents when they're not sneaking into offices and stealing stuff), and hardly a "serious danger."


The first two floors have new coats of paint. (Yeah, those desks, I know.)

There's a touch of the tropics up on the Equestris level.

There's even some signs of life where the Longshots bar is supposed to be (and which will hopefully make the place fun again).....but April? That's next month, seems quite a stretch.

The Manhattan Terrace, which was closed the prior time I was there, is now reopened with a new floor and new TV monitors (and Aqueduct in HD if I'm not mistaken).

One highly negative note I must report regarding the murals on the first floor. The masterpiece of the collection, in my view, is the three-sided Chris Stain work opposite the paddock viewing area. Unfortunately, that area does not have the proper lighting by which to appreciate the work. And now it's become a storage area.

Well, at least those machines are used to keep the floors clean.  But they could find another spot for them, maybe down at the other end where the Rasta guys are getting wasted.

The funny thing is that back in those good ol' days that the News article is so nostalgic for, the packed grandstand and clubhouse were filled with cigarette and cigar smoke, butts, and ashes, discarded tickets, newspapers, gobs of spit, and trash generally strewn about. If you wanted to see some filth at Aqueduct, you should have been in the grandstand then!  To me, that's the cruelest irony of the decline of horse racing as a spectator sport. In a lot of ways, it really sucked being at the track.  Besides the smoke and dirt, there were the long betting lines (different windows for different bets) that one could very well spend half the day standing on.  You had to put up with quite a bit, and pass a lot of time if there were races you didn't want to bet.  Now, only a fool gets shut out, the air is smoke-free, there's plenty of places to sit, tons of tracks to bet on, constant action, never a dull moment. And nobody wants to go.  Go figure.

 - Capital Confidential reports that Robert Addolorato, the new chief investigator of Governor Cuomo's Moreland Commission on public corruption is a "Cuomo vet."
 Robert Addolorato worked as an investigator for Cuomo during his years as attorney general, and in 2011 jumped to the Inspector General’s office.
Addolorato replaces Danya Perry, who denies that she left over frustration with gubernatorial interference in the panel's work.  The new chief presumably won't have the same qualms.  Recall that we reported last month that two of the first three selections to the Resort Gaming Facility Location Board are similarly connected to the governor; for one thing, both had key positions in Cuomo's 2010 campaign.  So Cuomo is used to having his loyal pals serve on committees that are supposed to be independent.

By the way, we are still awaiting the appointments, by the Gaming Commission (comprised of Cuomo appointees), of two more members of the siting committee. Of course, the three already appointed do constitute a quorum, and the governor may like the makeup of the committee just the way it is.

 - We're happy to report that our favorite governor, David Paterson, had his portrait hung at the state Capital, taking its place next to that of George Pataki, since Eliot Spitzer doesn't have one. Suddenly, with just this small passage of time, the tenure of Governor Paterson didn't look so bad.
But on Sunday, Paterson was remembered for his administration's austere budgeting in a time of fiscal crisis and for the 2009 repeal of a provision of the Rockefeller Drug Laws that instituted harsh mandatory prison sentences for certain drug crimes in the 1970s.

"Tens of thousands of New Yorkers were forced to serve mandatory minimum prison terms for non-violent crimes," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. "Governor David Paterson's reforms cut the number of black New Yorkers going to prison by half. That's what Governor David Paterson should be remembered for." [Journal News]
Cuomo also cited Paterson's innovative use of budget extenders issued by executive decree to get around inaction by the legislature.  Paterson “shifted the balance of power so the governor was no longer subject to the legislative spending whims." [Capital New York]

And, of course, through his bumbling and stumbling through the selection process for the Aqueduct racino, Governor Paterson also brought us Genting.  It was only due to the delays and his ill-fated selection of AEG (with ample help from the now-indicted [though for other reasons] Democratic Senate leadership) that Genting was able to get into the running.  So, we can add that to Paterson's legacy too.  Thanks governor.


El Angelo said...

Aqueduct may not be dirty but it's certainly not nice. Nyra would have been much better served using slots money for capital improvements rather than pointlessly inflating purses in bad races for NY breds and low level claimers.

Anonymous said...

It does seem like a lot of desks. Do you know who has the desk contract?

Figless said...

The purse money is contractually dedicated from the VLT's, can not be siphoned off for Capex.

A piece of the VLT money is also contractually mandated for Capex, but in their defense there is SO much to do after years of waste its going to take time to catch up. Nice to see they sprung for the coat of paint, hopefully they painted the outside as well.

I suppose its within their power to allocate operating expenditures toward additional capex, but the Gov's mandate to Kay is to make NYRA profitable so as to be more appealing upon privatization.

jk said...

The shiny linoleum floor is no match for the new carpet at the slot palace next door.

Teresa said...

A certain percentage of VLT money is designated for purses, a certain percentage for the breeders' fund, and a certain percentage for capital expenditures, which has so far been used for (among other things, I'm sure) renovating barns and backstretch residences at Belmont and Saratoga.

Dan said...

The Big A needs new seats outside to watch the races. I still like to watch the races through my binoculars. Those seats are from the 60's. They need to get rid of them & install new plastic seats.

Dan said...

I meant the 2nd floor seats in the "clubhouse".

Steve in NC said...

Alan, I just want to second the comment from a string or two ago that just because I may not comment so often doesn't mean I don't read & appreciate. You often say all that needs to be said.

There are occasionally some happy exceptions, but the stuff you constantly expose on your blog provides that much more evidence of how pitiful modern American journalism has become. Actually not pitiful because the media institutions and the writers who go for the sensational approach (or the lazy one of just quoting the powerful) deserve little pity.

Thank you for providing an important alternative source of credible information.

jk said...

NEW YORK – Ultimately, Len Riggio’s experience last Saturday at Aqueduct was an enjoyable one, as he wound up standing in the winner’s circle after his 3-year-old homebred Samraat won the Grade 3, $500,000 Gotham Stakes to remain undefeated.

Up until that race, however, Riggio – an owner, breeder, and member of the New York Racing Association’s Reorganization Board – and his guests were not enjoying their experience in the Equestris dining room at Aqueduct.

“The food was terrible, no waiters, no help – our experience was pretty sad,” Riggio said.

Riggio, who called Aqueduct an “eyesore,” also said this about the track: “It’s dirty, it’s dangerous, it’s just really not good.”