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

Comments (2)

BallHype: hype it up!

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