Thursday, May 03, 2012

A Lesson in Paper Trails

Horse racing can’t seem to get out of its way, at least horse racing in New York, this just a few days before North America’s-general-public-horse racing Super Bowl. (Oh, there’s racing after the Derby? Yes … and no … depends on who you ask.)

And what with the steady flow of cash coming in off regressive-tax suckers yanking a slot machine or pushing a button on a video lottery terminal, racing at Aqueduct has a growth spurt that promises to stumble and trip over its own feet. Maybe even a little acne.

This story by the New York Times presents yet another damning indictment on the treatment of the animals. Sore animals, whose value is around say, $7,500, are running for purses four and fives times their worth. The result has been more breakdowns than a Tom Petty concert. I read this story and every time the reporters (there are four by-lines attributed to the story) mentioned a horse’s name I kept thinking, “Hmm, how’s this horse gonna die? Yep, theeeerrrre it goes.”
I kept reading on and it just got worse and worse. My word, was it discouraging! One thing we can always count on heading into Derby Week is a lightning rod-case that sets the Horse Racing Movement back ten years. How will NBC’s Tom Hammond spin this one on Saturday?

Oh, and a thing or two about paper trails. Let’s call this a lesson in not getting your ass caught.

1. If you send a letter via sail mail, or fax you leave a literal paper trail from your desk to the desk of another.

Solution: Get recipient to shred damning document. Any former Enron exec that hasn’t killed himself can attest to this.

2. Email also leaves a paper trail, without the paper

A few things happen here. An outgoing email usually ends up in your sent folder that can be searched and retrieved by any IT guy. An email ends up in the inbox of recipient’s folder.

Solution: You delete your email from sent folder and hope that your recipient will do the same. Perhaps pick up a secure phone line and cordially ask recipient to please delete email upon consumption.

3. Should there ever be damning evidence, in writing, typing “off the record” is a sure-fire red flag that perhaps you should be having this conversation at an Arby’s.

Solution: Go to Arby’s.

Daily Racing Form publisher Steven Crist and NYRA President and CEO Charlie Hayward engaged in friendly back and forth … because they’re friends … over email … with potentially damning text in email … oh, man, see solutions 2 and 3.

This is a hot mess for Mr. Hayward, a person I got to know very well while reporting and writing Six Weeks in Saratoga. He is a very, very smart man, and was tremendously generous with his time. What did he have to gain by letting me shadow him for a meet? Too bad the chapter I wrote about him titled “A Good Guy” won’t keep him from ultimately getting fired. Or get resigned, if you know what I mean.

I still maintain that Mr. Hayward is a good guy, but even good guys make mistakes, especially good, powerful guys with six and seven-figure salaries. He and NYRA had a lot of irons in the fire that kept him and others mum. There’s no excuse for this lapse and if it were $8 instead of $8 million, maybe there’d be a slap on the wrist. But it wasn’t and this isn’t an axe hacking down a tree, this is a full-on Stihl.

Imagine what was going through Mr. Crist’s head during this email exchange. You can’t tell me this Harvard-educated exotic-betting poobah didn’t know what was at stake when he read Mr. Hayward’s words. It’s the type of story Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t even need his Cialis to get excited about. As a newsman, Mr. Crist’s stomach must have sunk down into his boots because this is A1 news and he chose to sit on it because, let’s face it, Mr. Crist and Mr. Hayward are friends and journalism ethics get a real test the face of friendship. In this case, journalism failed.

The sad part about possibly losing Mr. Hayward is this guy is a voracious horse player. He has held the post as NYRA’s grand executive for 7.5 years. He gets what it means to be a player, to handicap, to win, to lose by a nose. How many execs play the races as he does? He loves horse racing. I’ve seen him on the final Sunday of the Saratoga meet in shorts, sockless loafers, a polo shirt, a ball cap perched on his head, a racing form under his arm, and a Coors Light in his hand, loving every minute, puffing on that cigar.

If the cards fall where they will likely fall, he’ll have plenty of time to play the races, at 25% takeout, not 26%.

And maybe a little Arby’s on the side.

Brendan O'Meara can be followed @BrendanOMeara.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Praise for a late friend

I’ve been lucky in my 31 years in that I haven’t been confronted with death all too often, certainly none of a friend or very close family member. That changed this week when a friend of mine passed away. We weren’t particularly close, but close enough that it bears mention here at 2.0.

Richard Hamilton passed away Wednesday April 18 from a heart attack at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, NY. He was 76.

Just a few months ago he had sent an email out to friends that he was moving to a new address—16 Glen St. in Ballson Spa. When I moved up here in 2007, I lived in an apartment on 18 Glen St. We could’ve been neighbors.

I met Dick while researching and writing Six Weeks in Saratoga. I pieced together several articles for my John Morrissey chapter when Victoria Garlanda of the Saratoga Room at the Saratoga Springs Public Library told me a volunteer who may be of assistance should I need a reader. She told me when he volunteered so I came by looking for him and saw him eyebrow-deep in pile of papers before him, his downcast eyes sponging all that information.

A hobby of his, if you can call it a hobby, was scanning through the Saratogian for errors, circling them, then sending them in anonymously to the news or sports editor. He was quick to tell me he found the errors all too often.

He told me he was a former steward for NYRA and what better person—an industry insider—to read your book for content and overall accuracy with regards to racing? He was eager to help.

“As a steward, Dick was very professional and very thorough,” said Carmine Donofrio, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board steward who worked with Hamilton at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course. “He was a very intelligent man, very funny, and a great guy. He really loved horse racing.”

My wife would drop of chapters of Six Weeks for him, a pile of pages as heavy as a watermelon, and he’d devour them in a week. His notes were wonderfully insightful and when I had said that Secretariat won the Belmont by 39 ½ lengths, he kindly wrote, “I think it was 31 lengths, but I might be wrong.” Of course he wasn’t wrong.

He made corrections, suggestions, always saying, “Now, now, you don’t have to change anything. You can throw them out if you want!” I used every. One. Of. His. Suggestions. They were that good and made the book better than it was before he had his hands on it.

Dick made sure I wouldn’t pay him a dime for any of his work. I rode my bicycle to his old house off Gick Road and sat by him in his living room back in the fall of 2009. I pulled out an envelope and he threw up his hands as if I were handing him a bomb.

“No, no, I’m doing it for free!” he exclaimed.

“I know,” I said. “I wish I could pay you, but this is the next best thing.” It was a thank you note for his hard and timely work.

Wherever he is, I hope he’s got a nice pair of binoculars so he can watch some of the greats long gone. He’s in good company, and, likewise, so are they.

Brendan O'Meara can be followed on Twitter right here.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bring on Your Wrecking Ball?

This past Monday I experienced Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for the second time in my life. He told all of us in lovely Alllllbany, "Prepare to be transformed!" And we were for three glorious hours as he opened with possibly the most fitting song in his entire catalog: Badlands.

If my memory serves me right his next song was "Wrecking Ball".

Bring on your wrecking ball
Bring on your wrecking ball
C'mon and take your best shot
Let me see what you've got
Bring on your wrecking ball

That sphere of destruction swung on a tensile string bludgeoning the side of buildings, stadiums, and industry. Kentucky seems to be swinging that wrecking ball directly at itself.
Now when all this steel and these stories, they drift away to rust
And all our youth and beauty, it's been given to the dust
And your game has been decided, and you're burning the down the clock
And all of our little victories and glories, have turned into parking lots

On the surface, the proposed Lasix ban, that old anit-bleeder med, seems prudent. Get the athletes off this medicine, let the bleeders find refuge elsewhere, the non-bleeding winners play on, and there will be generations of horses to come who will bleed less. The idea works only if every other racing jurisdiction adopts it too. Jennie Rees of the Courier-Journal paints a bad picture for Kentucky racing, the Palace of the Sport of Kings, if you will.

"The ultimate outcome of Kentucky becoming the first jurisdiction to repeal Lasix would not be universal trumpeting about how great and courageous the commonwealth’s racing regulators are," she writes. "Instead, it would result in the further exodus of horses to other jurisdictions and heads shaking everywhere by those grounded in reality."

It's as if Pennsylvania (slots), Indiana (slots), West Virginia (slots), and Ohio (possibly slots) are lobbying to get this bill passed so that they can benefit from said exodus.

A commenter on Bill Shanklin's Horse Racing Business Blog said, "Clean up racing and its image and start in my Old Ky. Home." I merely replied with Ms. Rees's column. It's not that simple. The Kentucky Derby could turn into a blood bath with horses who use Lasix in every other state they train and race in, then come to Kentucky and have what looks like a collective brain aneurism at the finish line.

I'd love to see horses race without chemistry. But if Kentucky is hoping other states will follow suit, I think they are greatly mistaken and greatly underestimate other states' desire to survive even at the cost of the Bluegrass State.

Hard times come, hard times go
And hard times come, hard times go
Hard times come, hard times to
Yeah just to come again

Bring on that wrecking ball.

Brendan O'Meara tweets.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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