New York governor Andrew Cuomo has come up with another proposal to re-privatize NYRA. It would include night racing at Belmont and fewer winter dates at Aqueduct. Each of these is sure to stir opposition from horsemen and citizen activist groups. This might be Cuomo's intention. He could delay turning back NYRA and blame it on others.


MIAMI, Jan. 19, 2017--Racing after dark could be coming to Belmont and winter racing could be going at a re-privatized New York Racing Association.

These bombshells were first dropped on Tuesday in the midst of a hearing of the New York Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Sub-Committee. As he conducted the hearing, Sen. John Bonacic was handed a blog post from the Albany Times-Union reporting Cuomo was planning to turn back NYRA as part of his new state budget. The report was confirmed later in the day.

Evening racing at Belmont and an unspecified reduction in racing during the cold weather months is a part of the governor’s plan.

Sen Bonacic’s panel was essentially a gripe session. Others present are as unhappy as Bonacic is with Gov. Cuomo maintaining control of NYRA two years past the deadline for returning it to private hands. So Cuomo’s proposal, which came out of the blue, could be just blowing smoke by the politically savvy governor. Cuomo knew he was going to take a beating at the hearing and probably wanted to change the narrative in media coverage, which he did.

It is not cause for New York racing fans to begin kissing each other in Times Square. Cuomo had a plan last year to supposedly re-privatize NYRA but it was basically a sham in which Cuomo flunkies would still control NY racing. This one could be more of the same.

A new NYRA board would have 15 members, eight from the private sector, six appointed by the governor and NYRA’s CEO Christopher Kay. So Cuomo would start with seven votes in his pocket. All he would need to maintain control is to win over one of the private sector representatives. This wouldn’t be a daunting challenge considering the power the governor has over areas of commerce in which private sector representatives likely to be chosen participate.

The same citizen’s coalitions that kept slot machines out of Belmont could reorganize to oppose evening racing in their neighborhood. Even if this is avoided, thoroughbred racing after dark in the metropolitan area at the Meadowlands never proved to be the wild success it was forecast to be. In fact, the harness horses did better, probably a product of the trotters and pacers having a history and fan base after the sun went down. It’s easy to say, “Well, that was New Jersey,” but the Meadowlands is located closer to parts of the Bronx and Manhattan than Belmont Park on Long Island is.

How greatly winter racing will be curtailed would be a major issue with horsemen and their employees, who can’t afford to winter in Florida. Also, horsemen at every venue where night racing has been introduced have raised objections to their people having to cool out horses after midnight then be at the barn a few hours later for normal training procedures.

This proposal also represents the latest indication that the governor remains determined to shut down Aqueduct as a race track and use the land to expand the casino and surround it with a hotel and convention center.

So these reports might be nothing more than a tactic to get horsemen and others to raise objections, which would allow Cuomo to pass blame for another delay in surrendering control of NYRA.

Sunshine (not nearly) Millions

Anyone who doubts how difficult it is to get horsemen to agree on anything, even when it’s in their best interests, need not look any further than Gulfstream Park this Saturday. The annual Sunshine Millions will be renewed but this year the title is a misnomer.

In the past, there were six races with cumulative purses of more than a million dollars: the Classic for $250K, the Distaff for $200K and the Turf, Filly & Mare Turf, Sprint and the Turf Sprint for $150K apiece. This year, the Turf Sprint has been dropped, the Classic has had its purse reduced to $200K and the other four will go for $100K apiece.

It’s fair to ask how can this be when Gulfstream recently announced wagering on live races last year was up 13% to more than a billion and a half dollars?

Simple answer. The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association (FTBOA) and the Florida Horsemen ‘s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) are in a tinkling war, which essentially boils down to who is going to have the loudest voice in South Florida racing and control the vast amount of dollars gleaned from handle.

The sides are pointing blame at each other but the end result of their circular firing squad is everyone will compete for less than 60% of what they could have.

Keep in mind, both organizations have members who also race at the NYRA tracks and will have a voice in the re-privatization proposal.

Circus closing a warning to Greatest Show on Turf

Most folks probably felt a tinge of sadness at the announcement that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is shutting down after 146 years. It might be years since the last time you went to the “greatest show on Earth” but it’s disheartening to see a once cherished piece of Americana die.

The demise of the circus can be traced to several factors. Changing tastes is a big one. If the circus was turned into a video game, kids these days might take interest. Also, the cost of staging a traveling road show has exploded.

Another major factor--the reason I bring it up here--was years of battling animal rights groups, the same hassles horse racing is experiencing. Organizations like the Humane Society and PETA are relentless. It matters not if their allegations are unfounded or outright lies. Feld Entertainment, owner of RBB&B, won a $25 million settlement last May from activists for baseless charges that the circus mistreated its elephants.

Alas, it took 14 years and became a Pyrhhic victory. In the meantime, cities, most notably Los Angeles and Oakland, jumped on the bandwagon and banned elephants and other elements of the circus. To appease them, RBB&B eliminated the elephants, a concession not unlike California thinking it could get PETA off its back by instituting a whip rule. Feld Entertainment said the elimination of the elephants led to the loss of customers, the same effect the whip controls could have on horse racing.

Now, not only the elephants are gone. The entire circus is about to fade into nostalgia.

Over the past few years, animal rights crusaders also have gotten greyhound racing banned almost everywhere but Florida. With decoupling in Florida looking inevitable, they’ll probably soon be able to claim another victory. They still won’t stop. If anything, they will be emboldened. They need villains, real or invented, to keep fund raising going.

I was going to say horse racing could be the next big target but their campaigns have already started. In addition to the whip rule cave-in, there have been pickets at racing’s biggest events the past few years, which always get plenty of media coverage.

Appeasement won’t succeed any more than it does in politics. Situations like the whip rule are almost an admission of wrong-doing. Instead of the losing strategy of giving in incrementally, racing has to mount a vigorous campaign to answer, resist and discredit these organizations or the game could go the way of the circus.