Mark Berner

Mark Berner first worked with horses on a small farm in upstate New York in 1973, where he mucked stalls and cared for racehorses with infirmities that were turned out there until ready to resume training.

He joined American Teletimer as a clocker in 1976 and operated their electronic timing equipment at many east coast racetracks until 1978, when he was permanently stationed at NYRA's three tracks, Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park & Saratoga Race Course.

Berner did freelance handicapping for the New York Daily News in 1982 & 1983 before joining Newsday in 1984 as a handicapper and later a sports reporter. Berner teamed up with Pricci to win the United Press International's 1985 UPI New York Newspaper Awards for Best Sports Story. In addition, Berner wrote and handicapped for several trade publications including, Daily Racing Form, Sports Eye, Racing Action, The Thoroughbred Times, Horse Player Magazine and New York Sportsnet.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Senator Addabbo’s Bills - A Good Bet for Horses


Sometimes politicians can be sharp and New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr. is one of the sharpest. Last week Addabbo held a public hearing before two committees of the State Senate that was more reminiscent of a dog and pony show. But this week two bills he sponsored that would benefit New York’s horseracing industry passed in the NYS Senate. One bill will increase protections for horses; the other authorizes the New York State Gaming Commission to participate in the Mid-Atlantic Interstate Equine Testing Drug Compact. Both bills moved to the Assembly, which has until midnight tomorrow to approve, June 19 marking the end of the current legislative session.

Edited press release

From the office of Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr.
Queens, NY, June 17, 2019

One week after the NYS Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering and the Domestic Animal Welfare Committee held a public hearing on the welfare of racehorses, the Senate passed two bills sponsored by Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. to increase protections for racehorses.

The first bill (S.1974-A) establishes the Commission on Retired Racehorses and the second (S.6142) authorizes the NYS Gaming Commission to participate in the Mid-Atlantic Interstate Equine Testing Drug Compact. “As chair of the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee and a member of the Domestic Animal Welfare Committee, I recognize the importance of protecting active and retired thoroughbreds,” said Addabbo. “With Aqueduct Raceway [cq] in my district, I appreciate how important the racing industry is to our state’s economy so by working to reduce racehorse injuries and fatalities, and ensuring that they receive appropriate and compassionate care when their racing days are over, we can create a more positive overall racing industry,” Addabbo added.

Addabbo’s bill (S.1974-A) will give the Commission on Retired Racehorses oversight on the treatment and handling of retired racehorses while maintaining a registry of retired racehorse owners. The definition of “retired race horses” includes thoroughbred and standardbred horses registered in NY and no longer engaged in racing. New owners of retired racehorses must notify the Commission within 72 hours of any change in ownership or upon the death of a former racehorse, as certified by a veterinarian. Violations are subject to civil penalties not to exceed $500. Currently, once a racehorse becomes unprofitable for owners, there is little oversight on handling of retired horses and many get sold to international slaughterhouses for human consumption despite having drugs and medications in their systems not meant for human consumption.
New York is the largest racing jurisdiction within the Mid-Atlantic region that also includes New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.

Addabbo’s bill (S.6142) will promote, streamline and allow for uniform adoption of model Thoroughbred industry medication rules and standards, enhance equine drug testing, and standardize the ability to maintain the integrity of racing by protecting the health, safety and welfare of the horse and rider. The Compact Commission will only propose the adoption of rules that have been studied, considered, proposed and adopted by the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which is the racing industry’s “scientific arm” and the Association of Racing Commissioners International. All Thoroughbred industry stakeholders will participate in the rules development process. This legislation was signed into law in Maryland and Delaware.

Both bills passed by the Senate were delivered to the Assembly where they are being considered. [editor’s note: The Assembly version of the bill, first introduced in 2015, is A3535.]

By Mark Berner

One Senate bill increases protections for active and retired racehorses and establishes a five-member commission, which shall be responsible for the oversight of retired racehorses including the creation of a registry to track such.

The purpose of the commission is to monitor the whereabouts and treatment of retired racehorses and to prevent the illegal transport of horses into the inhumane international slaughter industry.

Most importantly, Addabbo's bill contains a mandate that the Compact Commission will only propose the adoption of rules that have been studied, considered, proposed and adopted by the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which is the racing industry’s “scientific arm” and the Association of Racing Commissioners International. This means all Mid-Atlantic racetracks shall be aligned with RMTC and ARCI model rules.

Dr. Scott Palmer, DVM, testified at the public hearing that after a spate of equine fatalities at Aqueduct Race Track during the winter of 2011-2012, there has been a 46% reduction in racing fatalities at Thoroughbred racetracks in New York: Finger Lakes and the three New York Racing Association tracks; Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga.

Palmer reported that racing fatalities in New York in 2018 averaged 1.29 per 1,000 starts, well under the national average of 1.68.

By comparison, Churchill Downs was second highest in the nation last year at 2.73 per 1,000, and Santa Anita, which suffered a rash of fatalities this winter, averaged 2.36 fatalities per 1,000 starts for 2016-2017 season, the latest listing made available by the California Horse Racing Board.

Palmer developed a system in 2012 to improve the average in New York and has been highly successful in leading the US with a better model. That standard will be adopted by the Mid-Atlantic Compact, the second Senate bill authorizing New York’s relationship.

Just as New York led the way after tragedy struck at Aqueduct, California has taken up that mantel enforcing tighter restrictions after a series of fatalities at Santa Anita Park last winter. The new measures, including reduced drug use and better monitoring, have led to fewer equine fatalities in the months since.

It was announced last Wednesday that a five-member team of independent veterinarians and stewards from the California Horse Racing Board to will oversee racing and training at Santa Anita and ensure new safety measures designed to protect horses are followed.

Even though the situation has abated greatly, rumors that the Board of Breeders’ Cup Ltd. is still considering a switch from Santa Anita to Churchill Downs despite the fact that Churchill has one of the worst fatality averages in the country.

It is a tough spot for Breeders’ Cup Ltd. If a horse breaks down at either racetrack, the decision will forever be questioned. Should the Breeders’ Cup remain at Santa Anita this November as scheduled, or should it be moved to Kentucky?

Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.

© Mark Berner,, June 18, 2019, All Rights Reserved.

Written by Mark Berner

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

New York State Senate Gets an Earful

Jeffrey Cannizzo, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc., warned State Senate Committee members that some of the things they may have been told in Albany on June 5 might not have been the whole story. Senator Joseph Addabbo directed the action, which at times seemed more fitting for dogs and ponies. There were a few self-serving statements and a sprinkling of alternate facts. Others who testified actually do good things for horses. The most sincere testimony came from Susan Kayne, who blew the lid off the industry’s favored retirement foundation, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.

By Mark Berner

The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance “does not have the best interest of the horse at heart,” said Susan Kayne, founder and president of the Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation. “I believe they have the best image of the industry stakeholders at heart.”

Kayne gave testimony at a joint hearing of the New York State Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering and the Domestic Animal Welfare Committee.

Kayne said of the TAA, “It’s a slick PR machine. It is propaganda for the industry to cover up the carnage and the reality of the number of horses that go to slaughter.” I have heard the same story from others who need to remain anonymous or risk losing grants.

Kayne is proud to be an independent voice for Thoroughbreds and can speak without fear because she refuses to get in bed with the TAA.

TAA code of standard says, “Whenever possible, accredited organizations should work cooperatively with the Thoroughbred racing community to share media resources and increase public awareness of Thoroughbred aftercare to uphold the image and integrity of the horseracing industry.”

The TAA will cut funding if any person or organization says something negative. It is part of the ‘see something-say nothing’ policy preferred by the stewards of the sport.

Unbridled is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and Kayne, who homes 20 head in her small herd in Climax, NY, runs the most transparent operation I have witnessed.

In the interest of transparency and full disclosure, I ran a charity campaign for my birthday on Facebook that raised $675 for Unbridled. Through a $500 membership fee in the New York Thoroughbred Horsemens Association Empire Racing Club, a 501(c) 7, I contributed to NYTHA’s Take the Lead, a retirement program for Thoroughbreds stabled at New York Racing Association racetracks. NYTHA supports and contributes to the TAA.

Dr. Scott Palmer opened the testimony and Senator Addabbo, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, made it clear that this was his man. Speaking of Palmer, Addabbo said, “You are the agency. You are the enforcement.”

It was their way to state that they are doing a great job and while they are spending a lot of money, they are spending it wisely. The remaining three hours saw a slew of people testify about rescue, slaughter, and racetrack deaths. A lot of it was nonsense.

Addabbo asked Palmer how he is able to track all the horses and Palmer told him that he gets daily information from The Jockey Club, which tracks every horse in its registry.

TJC can track every horse but its leaders do not want to let out all the facts, like where do the horses go that never make it to the races? Approximately half of the 20,000 horses bred each year never race according to Equibase data.

The old boys’ network of breeders never had much to do with retirement, and if it were not for the press and animal rights’ activists, they would not be now to any major degree. Instead, they likely would throw a few dollars at it, hoping to deflect their neglect, and pray that the women of rescue will clean up after them.

The $3-5 million per year donated to, and then distributed by, the TAA falls short by about $115 million, which is needed to care for the 20,000 Thoroughbreds born each year.

The TAA runs a numbers game. They require accredited retirement organizations to continually rescue and rehome horses, or the grants dry up. Then the TAA puts the onus to follow-up upon the member organizations and the TAA does not, according to interviews with TAA members.

In fact, a real dog and pony show exists; it’s how people dress up their farms and reflect the animals with smoke and mirrors to gain TAA accreditation. The TAA has no comprehensive follow up plan to spot check already accredited foundations.

On the other hand, both Unbridled and Take the Lead, under the expert guidance of trainer Rick Schosberg, offer a money back guarantee. If for any reason a re-homer of a horse can no longer do so, both organizations will take back the horse.

Kayne recently went and took back several horses she originally rehomed with Mary Lu Dolce of Claremont Farm that were in a bad situation. In fact, she puts the caveat in all her rehoming contracts that she will peacefully enter the property and retrieve any neglected horses.

Kayne said, “I’ve had horses at Unbridled that came out of TAA organizations that were skinnier than when they came out of the kill pen.” Kayne is currently preparing to go through the accreditation process to become a member of an international organization, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Kayne summed it all up perfectly: “Responsible breeding and aftercare is not a matter of money, it’s a matter of morality. It’s a matter of choices that individuals within the industry make, and it demonstrates how grossly the industry as a whole has failed at aftercare.”

© Mark Berner,, June 11, 2109, All rights reserved.

Written by Mark Berner

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Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Cuomo is Not Good for NYRA

The New York Racing Association has gotten a raw deal from New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, as it did under his father, former NY Gov. Mario Cuomo. If sports betting is approved by the state legislature this year, NYRA’s tracks will not be able to offer it. The procedure to do so requires a three-year process before a pro-NYRA bill can be introduced to the state legislature.

By Mark Berner

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he will seek a fourth term in that office and that is not welcome news for the New York Racing Association--or its horsemen, its players, racing fans or anyone associated with horses in the Empire State.

The Governor inherited his disdain for horseracing and gambling from his father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. However, the younger Cuomo does have a great appetite for the gambling revenue that helps make his state go.

Whenever had had the upper hand, Cuomo stepped in and took advantage of NYRA’s plight. Though many of NYRA’s wounds were self-inflicted, Cuomo was always there with a sizable heaping of salt.

NYRA will not get to participate in legalized sports betting in this state now because Cuomo, with the help of some politicians, who should be friends of horseracing without whose help there was no place for other forms of gambling to go, passed a law in 2013 which allows sports betting at four upstate casinos only.

The Assembly’s chair of the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, J. Gary Pretlow, sponsored the 2013 law that excluded the racetracks from conducting sports betting. His counterpart in the Senate, Joseph Addabbo, Jr., explained that his 2019 bill would exclude racetracks again, but plans are to include them at some point in the future.

What Addabbo did not state is that later is at least three years away. It requires a change in the state’s constitution and that requires passage in two consecutive sessions in the state legislature and also a statewide ballot referendum. Currently, only those four upstate casinos can offer sports betting if the legislature approves the bill by June 19.

The only way to subvert this occurrence is through a loophole that may allow Resorts World New York City Casino to place a sports betting kiosk in its casino at Aqueduct because its Resorts World Catskill casino is one of the four casinos given approval in 2013.

The 2013 law also capped Resorts contributions to NYRA at 2013 levels, something that never was nailed down in the original deal that enabled Resorts to open a casino at The Big A in the first place.

How could this happen? Well, it’s a long story and not a pretty one, either.

From December 2003 through September 2005, NYRA operated under a deferred prosecution agreement following a 2003 federal indictment. The related charges alleged income tax evasion and money laundering by mutuel clerks between 1980 and 1999--with the knowledge of NYRA middle managers.

Under the agreement, NYRA paid $3 million to the government and implemented new cash-handling procedures designed to eliminate corruption. A New York law firm monitored the mismanagement.

After receiving a report from the monitor, which concluded that NYRA complied with the new guidelines, the Justice Department moved to dismiss the indictment and its motion was allowed by a federal judge.

NYRA, claiming that the state lottery division's failure to approve the installation of video-lottery terminal (VLT) machines at Aqueduct Racetrack pushed it to insolvency, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on November 2, 2006.

Ultimately, NYRA was reorganized and its franchise to operate the three racetracks was extended through 2033 with the approval the New York State legislature on February 13, 2008. The new authorization provided $105 million in direct state aid and forgave millions more in state loans to NYRA.

But the Association had to give up its claim to ownership of the land on which the three racetracks stand. In return, the state gained expanded oversight responsibility and the State Comptroller won the power to audit NYRA's books.

The association emerged from bankruptcy protection September 12, 2008 with incorporation of a successor corporation, New York Racing Association Inc. But by 2012, NYRA was again facing bankruptcy and a scandal over the payouts of bets.

Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver were on hand to announce an agreement to establish the NYRA Reorganization Board. Of those three politicians, only Cuomo has not been convicted of any crime.

NYRA President Charles Hayward was fired after the state discovered a takeout betting scandal that cost bettors millions and Ellen McClain took over from Hayward. In just over a year, she was gone and Cuomo found Chris Kay in 2013. It was a tumultuous time at NYRA’s helm and was easy pickings for Cuomo to advance his agenda.

When the state returned NYRA to its own control in 2017, it was a shell of the former organization that once ruled the industry. A year earlier, NYRA launched an online advance-deposit wagering platform under the NYRA Bets brand which offers live bets and live simulcasts from multiple states. It also expanded its simulcast programming nationally, racing coverage that remains unparalleled.

Newly installed NYRA President David O'Rourke, who previously executed the extremely successful NYRA Bets platform, spoke at a New York State Senate hearing last month urging that NYRA be allowed to play a role if, and when, the state approves wagering on all sports.

In the end, Cuomo got NYRA to give up the racetracks and the land upon which they reside, cap revenues promised by the deal with Resorts Casino and arranged for the state to prohibit sports betting even though NYRA has the most experience in that particular gambling space.

The last time Cuomo was at Belmont Park was for the announcement that the New York Islanders would build an Arena at Belmont. He told a story of how he liked to go to the Nassau Coliseum, former home of the Islanders, to watch the New York Nets play basketball. It struck me as odd that Cuomo would be so out of touch.

Clearly, NYRA is not getting any favors from this Governor, a second-generation anti-racing politician and should it expect to. What are the chances NYRA would sue New York State for all that lost revenue and damages?

© Mark Berner,, June 4, 2019, All Rights Reserved.

Written by Mark Berner

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