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, February 12, 2019

Drama Surrounding Saratoga, Belmont and Islanders Ending

By Mark Berner

The New York Racing Association on Thursday confirmed an HRI November story that it indeed will extend the 2019 Saratoga race meet.

Last week’s announcement also confirmed the yet to be stated final decision from New York’s Empire State Development Corporation that the New York Islanders will get final approval to build its new hockey arena at Belmont Park.

NYRA denied the story at first because the New York State Gaming Commission had not approved the change in schedule.

Similarly, the Islanders have yet to confirm its new arena will be in Elmont because the ESD has thus far only given provisional approval.

The NYSGC could have approved the dates last November but the ESD still had a few dog and pony shows scheduled at the Elmont Library.

The deadline for written comments, extended to March 1, is a signal that the ESD’s announcement of final approval for the Isles is imminent.

The Belmont Park spring/summer meeting will run 48 days beginning Friday, April 26 through Sunday, July 7; Saratoga will begin Thursday, July 11 and run through Labor Day, September 2. Per usual since 2010, Saratoga will host 40 days of live racing.

Following the opening weekend, July 11 through July 14, racing at the Spa will be conducted five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Closing week will run Wednesday, August 28 through Labor Day.

On page seven of the ESD’s 28-page Request for Proposal it states, “The Designated Developer(s) will be expected to coordinate construction activities with NYRA.”

Though the all the i’s have not been dotted nor the t’s crossed, the arena is a done deal, confirmed by NYRA’s capitulation with wording in the RFP.

Rife with photo opportunities, local politicians, lawyers and activists took the opportunity at the Elmont Library to get some ink, a.k.a. electrons. In sum, the show was ineffective and without substance.

NYRA interim CEO David O'Rourke still equivocated in last week’s press release to avoid stepping on any toes. However, this cat has left the bag because NYRA would not make such an important schedule shift without benefit of inside information.

"Given the initial and proposed timelines for the potential construction of a new arena at Belmont Park, we believe it is the responsible action to move our racing operations to Saratoga Race Course slightly earlier than usual this summer."

Continued O'Rourke: "We appreciate the patience of our horsemen, fans and the community in awaiting this announcement. We are working diligently with our stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition to this new calendar."

National Hockey League President Gary Bettman is a lawyer, perceptive negotiator, and he never leaves himself without a Plan B. Absent that scenario, the construction of the Belmont arena is a mortal lock.

Barclays, developed by Brooklyn-based real estate developer Forest City Ratner, was the same company that put lipstick on a pig a “refurbished Nassau Coliseum.”

Ratner and Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment Global, operators of both Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum, failed to maintain the ice-making equipment at the Coliseum, the former and now sporatic, part-time home of the hockey team.

Ratner decreased Nassau Coliseum seating capacity to below NHL standards and was so petty as to pour concrete down the toilets in executive suites, rendering them useless. Ratner did this to insure that the Isles would play in Brooklyn.

The plan, seemingly criminal in nature and most definitely a conflict of interest, did not work.

Ratner made sure the Coliseum would be suitable for minor league sports only, turning an aging facility into a barn with the charm of a subway car. The Coliseum still lacks sufficient bathrooms, offers subpar food, and very few amenities, e.g. wait service in the business suites.

New York State last year invested $6 million to bring the Coliseum up to NHL standards, specifically investing in ice plant redundancy and dehumidification and media and broadcast cabling infrastructure.

Saturday’s Islanders vs. Edmonton game is the last regular season game at Barclays this season and, hopefully, forever. The home games this season were split equally between the Brooklyn and Nassau arenas.

Non hockey fans should note that the Islanders are in first place by three points over last year's Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division and second in the Eastern Conference behind the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.

It is highly likely the Isles will make the Stanley Cup playoffs. The rumor inside the league office is that the team will play at least the first playoff round at the Coliseum.

Sentiment among Islanders fans is that they should play there are far as they go in the playoffs. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran sent a letter to the league asking as much.

However, that may take another infrastructure investment because the first round is covered by local media but national coverage begins with round two. To that end, it is hoped the county will offer more than words when few dollars are needed.

Avoiding the Brooklyn option involved one move that Charles Wang, the former Islanders majority owner, was unwilling to make:

Senator Alfonse D’Amato asked Wang to hire his brother Armand as his lawyer. Known as “Uncle Al” in this area, D’Amato assured that this single hire would make for smooth sailing. But Wang hated Armand and nixed the deal. And so did Uncle Al.

Islanders’ management is committed to go 24/7/365, including all union overtime pay, to complete the arena in time for 2021-2022 NHL season. Shopping, dining and entertainment and a hotel comes later.

Addendum: Friday February 15, 2019
New York Islanders Announcement Regarding The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs

by New York Islanders PR NYIslanders /

Following consultation with Governor Andrew Cuomo's office, the New York Islanders and BSE Global have announced that should the Islanders qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, any first round home playoff games will take place at NYCB LIVE, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Should the team qualify for further rounds of the playoffs, any home Islanders games will take place at Barclays Center, reflecting that the Nassau Coliseum does not qualify as an NHL major league facility.

This agreement has been approved by the NHL, with the understanding that the scheduling of games will be in accordance with usual League practices.

© Mark Berner, 2019

Written by Mark Berner

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