Paul Moran

For 30 years, more than 22 at Newsday, in New York, Paul Moran has covered thoroughbred racing on its highest level. During that time, he has covered 30 Triple Crown series, every running of the Breeders' Cup Championships, 23 race meetings at Saratoga, won two Eclipse Awards, a Red Smith Award for coverage of the Kentucky Derby and other writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Editors, Long Island Press Club, Society of Silurians (the oldest press club in New York), Long Island Veterinary Medical Association, Florida Magazine Publishers Association.

In 2002, he was named New York's best thoroughbred handicapper by the New York Press in its annual "Best of Manhattan" edition. His work has appeared in virtually every racing publication published in the United States and most major American newspapers. He is a licensed owner of thoroughbreds in New York Contact:

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Playing a longshot in Florida

There are moments that remain forever clear in memory, one of which is walking into Hialeah Park for the first time.

On Saturday afternoons deep in the winters for which Buffalo, N.Y. is famous, Hialeah played a pivotal role in the direction my life would eventually take. There was just one television station there in the early 1950s and the race of the week brought black and white Hialeah Park and racing in the nations living rooms. Those winter afternoons cemented my future and I imagine many others to the racing game.

More than 20 years later, a newspaper job brought me to South Florida and a right turn off 4th Avenue, then a short, slow drive through a corridor of towering royal palms, brought me to the clubhouse entrance. There were more perks attached to newspapering in those days, one of which was free valet parking at the racetracks of South Florida.

I stood there for a while and just looked the place, savored its elegance, the sweeping staircases and lush landscaping and intricate fountains.

Walking into Hialeah Park for the first time was like entering a grand European cathedral. There was a dignity to the place that hung in the air, a pulse, a heartbeat and a sense of history that was enveloping. Hialeah was as much an icon as a racetrack that even then was upon dire times in a highly competitive market in which a debilitating battle with Gulfstream Park, then family-owned, over midwinter racing dates was renewed annually.

Though much younger, having been built originally in the 20, then rebuilt in 1932 by Joseph E. Widener, who imported what remains the nations largest colony of flamingos, it was for a half-century the southern Saratoga, winter destination of the wealthy, famous and infamous, many of whom traveled by train from Palm Beach. It was also winter quarters for the most powerful Eastern racing stables.

By 1977, when John Brunetti acquired Hialeah from the group headed by John W. Galbreath, the tracks future was clouded by the changing demographic face of South Florida, home to three thoroughbred tracks as well as a harness racing facility, several greyhound tracks and jai-alai frontons. Even before the introduction of a state lottery and land-based casinos in Florida, competition for the gambling dollar was fierce.
The eventual presence of Magna Entertainment, which acquired and ultimately ruined Gulfstream Park, Churchill Downs, which purchased Calder, and deregulation of racing dates, probably the worse racing-related decision in the states legislative history, ultimately overwhelmed Hialeahs tenuous position in the marketplace. Brunetti, who at times approached obsession and was not above misjudgment, kept the listing if still grand racetrack afloat through hard times and hurricanes until 2001, when on May 22, Cheeky Miss won the last race run over that hallowed ground.

The barns were razed about a year later and the building, haunted by the ghosts of the great horses and horsemen who wintered there and the collective memories of those who walked the grounds in better times, is overgrown and in disrepair. The flamingos take graceful flight amidst the decay with no one watching and Hialeah Park is listed not among the nations great racetracks but on the National Trust for Historic Preservations list of the 11 most-endangered historic places in America. There is a plan under consideration for development of the property.

A grassroots movement -- opposes the plan and seeks restoration of the property for a variety of uses and, ideally, a return to racing. Interestingly, this is not a movement led by nostalgic old men, but by a group of young citizens of Hialeah led by founder Alex Fuentes who recognize the tracks place in history and its value as a public resource.

They fight the good fight against very long odds. But, not far away, South Beach is an example of the success of activists who battled to preserve the art deco buildings that developers sought to replace but ultimately restored. Everything old can indeed be new again and the concept of a longshot winning at Hialeah is not out of the question.

Written by Paul Moran

Check out Paul Moran on Blogspot At the Races
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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Typical political behavior: Just say no!

With each passing day, the prospect of a showdown at Aqueduct on January 1, 2008, becomes more and more a real possibility.

The New York Racing Association has threatened to shut down if the franchise issue remains unsettled on Dec. 31, when the one currently in place expires and no positive sign has come from Albany that an agreement between the governor and the obstructionists in the State Senate is imminent.

The state has threatened a takeover but there is no bureaucrat with the expertise to operate a racetrack, no mechanism for converting what little manpower remains at NYRA into instant civil servants. Or, will members of the legislature be sent to Queens and pressed into emergency service to man betting windows, work the starting gate, park cars, drive tractors and, since all contracts with vendors would be suspended, operate restaurants, bars and concession stands, wash dishes, pick up cigarette butts in the parking lot, haul away manure?

If NYRAs hand is forced, there will be an interruption of racing, the fallout of which will be immediately evident and ominous.

The legislatures failure to extend the franchise triggers resumption of the dispute over ownership of the real estate upon which Aqueduct, Belmont, a longstanding bone of contention disposed of in the agreement between NYRA and the governor but sabotaged by the Republican leadership in the senate. That agreement, in its original form, may be in need of refinement, but it is the only positive step this process has seen in almost three years of rhetorical acrobatics and political subterfuge.

In the cold light of reality, NYRA is the last player standing in a war of attrition to win the renewed racing franchise and the video lottery terminals that accompany the award. Virtually every financial supporter of Empire Racing and Excelsior, the most serious of the opposing groups, has withdrawn. Moving forward to fine tune the memorandum of understanding between the governor and NYRA would, at this point, appear to be the proverbial no brainer, but no brainer in the New York legislature is probably an oxymoron.

There are issues facing the people of New York far more important than the racing franchise the crumbling upstate economy, guns, taxes, immigration, crime, global dumbing, pressing one to speak English but political celebrity and acrimonious posturing has overwhelmed the concept of public service in New York.

It would be possible to have less contempt for the Republican opponents to sanity in the state senate were they successful in offering constructive suggestion for the future of racing here, but the intransigent opposition has been accompanied by nothing of substance and much of the absurd typical political behavior. (In the interest of disclosure, I am a registered Republican who is rethinking the affiliation.)

Before horsemen, breeders, owners, horseplayers and tens of thousands of others dependent upon the sensible conduct of racing in New York for either livelihood or amusement march on Albany carrying torches, might it be possible to step away from typical political behavior long enough to actually accomplish something that departs from the self-serving agenda of ego-driven elected officials? If the phenomenon of political celebrity has not completely overwhelmed the concept of public service, might it be possible to set aside typical political behavior long enough to serve the peoples interest? This may be the greatest sacrifice of deeply held priority since the Hollywood Kids against drugs campaign, which dates back to the Reagan administration, but there are times when personal priority must be subjugated in the interest of the greater good.

This is one of those.

Written by Paul Moran

Check out Paul Moran on Blogspot At the Races
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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Never say never

More stuff you just couldnt make up (Okay, so most of this actually is made up, but not the most unbelievable part.)

The Internal Revenue Service believes that the New York Racing Association and presumably every other racetrack in the United States should be taxed on gross receipts rather than net profit, which in NYRAs case has been less than zero for roughly the last quarter century.

The $1.64 billion bankruptcy claim filed by the IRS exceeds NYRAs total revenue for the period in question, 2000-2005 and claims that purses are not legitimate operating expenses. On Thursday, NYRA president Charlie Hayward called the IRS claim, ludicrous, which may have been an understatement, and estimated the actual liability at about $15-16 million.

It is farfetched that a tax court will uphold the IRS claim. But, as any horseplayer will tell you, never say never.

Were the IRS to prevail in this dispute, NYRA and every other racing organization in the nation would be forced out of business, the breeding industry would collapse along with several others, horses abandoned by owners no longer capable of supporting their demand for food and shelter would be roaming the streets and hundreds of thousands of people would be bankrupt, unemployed or, at worst, homeless. Many would turn to crime. Frank Stronach would flee to Canada, where racing thrives, riding The Green Monkey across the Peace Bridge to Fort Erie, where the $16-million horse wins a $4,000 maiden claiming race in the 25th start of his career.

In Kentucky, where Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Ellis Park and Turfway Park would stand dark and overgrown, thousands of young feral horses left at bankrupt breeding farms would forage the countryside. Similar circumstances prevail in Florida, California, Maryland, Virginia and New York. Indiscriminate mating produces a hardy, durable horse in subsequent generations.

Just before turning off the lights, the New York Racing Association, Churchill Downs and Magna Entertainment sell the rights to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes to the Maktoum Family, which announced that the Triple Crown will continue uninterrupted at Nad Al Sheba, in Dubai. Most of the stallions standing in the United States and every Grade I winning broodmare are relocated either to a Godolphin, Darley, Shadwell and Coolmore breeding facility in Europe or Australia. Sha Tin Race Course, in Hong Kong, becomes permanent home of the Breeders Cup.

NYRA trustees finally succeed in selling the art collection and deposit the proceeds in several off-shore betting accounts.

Six off-track betting corporations in New York remain in business without the loss of a single job while taking bets on races in Canada, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

In upstate New York, Saratoga Springs civic groups led by state Sen. Joe Bruno, Jack Knowlton (Mr. Funny Cide) and Marylou Whitney support a cessation move and return to the days of the lake-house casinos. Hunger-striking protesters chain themselves to railings at the Saratoga Race Course. Eventually, they die. The city, its racing heritage lost, adopts the slogan: Birthplace of the potato chip.

Thousands of illegal immigrants, former grooms and hotwalkers carrying New York State driving licenses, flee on horseback across the Mexican border, straining the social welfare institutions in that country and elevating international tensions.

Remember, when the government is involved, never say never.

Written by Paul Moran

Check out Paul Moran on Blogspot At the Races
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