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, August 07, 2018


Money Laundering in Horse Racing News?


The New York Racing Association conducts North America’s elite meet for Thoroughbreds at Saratoga Race Course each summer. Horseplayers, stakeholders and horsemen always strive to be there.

However, some never get to go to the races at The Spa. Most of the characters in “Missionville,” a novel by Alex Brown, are among those who do not ever get to go to the storied racetrack in New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

Brown, a long-time equestrian, penned a suspense-filled Thoroughbred mystery equal to that of legendary Dick Francis in his first try at writing fiction.

With precision, Brown focused on today’s controversial topics with the insight of a horseman. And with “Missionville,” the author of Barbaro’s official biography hit the equivalent of a literary Pick 6.

The novel is set at Missionville--the eponymous racetrack of Missionville. The track is owned by the richest man in a small Pennsylvania town, Harry Mitchell.

Harry Mitchell, his trainer, Mike Franks, and their three-year-old colt, Dancer’s Foil, are the only ones from Missionville to make it to Saratoga, where they take on a Triple Crown winner in the Travers Stakes.

Is it art imitating life? “There’s some of Pete in me,” author Brown said of his main character, trainer Pete Wright. “I’ve trained one or two horses over the years, but Pete more closely resembles a few of my friends. We are all horsemen and we all hang out in bars.”

Or the other way around? “I think Missionville is a great model for money laundering,” said Brown. “There are so many opportunities to clean money through betting, paying cash for your help, owning racehorses, etc.”

An ideal, real life place to build a racetrack designed to launder money is in St. Lucia, an island nation known widely as a beach resort but also infamous for laundering drug money.

The US State Department cites St. Lucia as a money laundering country. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in its March 2018 report, International Narcotics Control Strategy Report – Volume II – Money Laundering, said:

“Monies derived from drug trafficking and other illicit enterprises are filtered into and washed through trading firms.”

Additionally, St. Lucia was identified as a drug distribution point for drugs destined for the US. US law enforcement is increasingly concerned about local corruption, visa-free travel, and the ability to easily open bank accounts.

So, is anyone actually building a racetrack in St. Lucia? Yes; China Horse Club.

As a significant member of the ownership group that retains Justify, the colt was wearing their silks when he completed his Triple Crown sweep at Belmont Park, June 9.

A Chinese partnership, they quickly have become a worldwide player at an elite level of horseracing, and they are establishing an entertainment facility in a place that has no racing culture.

There is no transparency relating to the Chinese partnership which is led by Malaysian Teo Ah Khing. They pay their bills and are loved by some of America’s top trainers.

In Missionville, protagonist racetrack owner, Harry Mitchell, always paid his bills. As with Harry, no one seems to care where China Horse Club’s money comes from, let alone ask.

St. Lucia is an island located between Martinique and St. Vincent, just a few islands up the Caribbean chain from Trinidad and Tobago, known as an entry point for drugs from Venezuela.

Why would China Horse Club as well as of Khing’s other companies, TAK Holdings and Desert Star Holdings – builders of magnificent racetrack and grandstand at Meydan in Dubai, want to sink mounds of money in a country that has very little relevance to the mainstream racing world?

According to Khing, this is a commercial venture designed as a model coinciding with the CHC’s long-term policy of “bringing horseracing to China, and China to the racing world.”

CHC is investing $2.8 billion--twice the annual GNP of St. Lucia--in the construction of Pearl of the Caribbean, a new “world class” racecourse which will be the centerpiece of a development that includes a palatial resort, a casino, malls and marinas.

For an island nation of 200,000 people whose youth unemployment nears 50% this is a very big deal, indeed.

The one-mile oval will be a dirt track with a turf track inside, hardly a world-class setup. Now the Hong Kong Jockey Club operates very well with 1,285 horses in training. There will be stabling for 1,000 horses in St. Lucia.

St. Lucia is working on quarantine regulations with the OIE, the World Organization for Animal Health, so it can qualify to become a Category 6 member. There is also a tri-partied agreement between Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados, so they can race on an inter-island circuit.

St. Lucia looks to join The Caribbean Racing Confederation, an umbrella organization of regional racing countries. There are two current member countries in the ARCI; Jamaica and Trinidad.

At this point, St. Lucia may or may not become an ARCI member but the track is slated to open in December, 2018.

Said ARCI President Ed Martin: “We were contacted a couple of years ago, but no formal membership can be sanctioned because, as far as I know, no regulatory body has been established.

“Regulatory drug testing and veterinary standards would need to be implemented. I am unaware of who would regulate, would it be the government or a private racing authority?

“I hope someone would police the activity," concluded Martin. The China Horse Club project does have the blessing of Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, who was on hand for ceremonial groundbreaking.

While Saratoga sets a standard worthy of emulating, the miasma of the muck pit that hung over the mythical Missionville currently is hanging over St. Lucia like a noxious fog.

Written by Mark Berner

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