John Pricci executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

All New Yorkers Owe Horse Industry a Debt of Gratitude

ELMONT, NY, October 17, 2012—It is perhaps is an unintended, positive consequence that Tuesday’s Equine Industry Economic Impact Study comes during the run-up to Saturday’s Showcase day at Belmont Park, where a series of stakes races celebrate the best New York-bred racehorses.

The study, combined with recent television advertising informing the citizenry how New York’s gambling industry in all its manifestations sends kids through school. Parenthetically, I’m sure my share of betting handle alone has sent at least one graduating class on to the next chapter of their lives.

I used to be somewhat apologetic about what I did for a living and I often recall a conversation my wife had with a fellow customer while waiting on a long line at the local supermarket in Syosset one afternoon.

So the shopper asks Toni, “…and what does your husband do for a living?”

“He’s a handicapper,” Toni said.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” empathized the woman.

To this day, neither of us knew whether that woman thought I had a physical disability or just a sizable flaw in my character. It wasn’t until I moved to Saratoga that I no longer felt compelled to apologize for, or over-explain, what I did for a living.

And that’s what makes those gambling spots on TV and yesterday’s report, commissioned in large part by the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, so gratifying. Indeed, late is better than never.

Don’t look now but racing in New York State is on the rebound and actually might come out of this economic and aesthetic recession in much better shape than could have been realized as far back as, well, the beginning of this week.

I have realized since becoming totally immersed in the racing business via a career in racing and sports media—as well as recently having a cup of coffee as a Thoroughbred owner—how important horse racing is in state for some time but never realized to what extent. To wit:

The horse industry, in all its manifestations, contributes $4.2 billion to the state’s economy and is responsible for 33,000 full-time jobs, according to a Massachusetts-based research firm.

State and local taxes of $187 million are distributed among all of the state’s 62 counties. Racetracks, horse farms, training centers, riding academies, horse shows, etc., account for the preservation of 1.3 million acres of green space. The horse population in New York numbers 157,500.

“It comes as no surprise that the equine industry creates tens of thousands of jobs. There is so much that goes into the raising and training of a horse. It is a very labor-intensive business," explained horse trainer and NYTHA president, Rick Violette.

The numbers support this observation. There are 23,100 horses alone, nearly as many horses that will be born in the entire country this year, according to the Jockey Club’s data.

Every racehorse, from stakes winner to claimer, impacts the state’s bottom line by $92,100. Every 100 horses require 80 workers to tend to their needs, many of whom labor on the state’s 23,000 family-owned horse farms, stables and other equine facilities, the trickle down impacting various other state and local businesses.

Who knew?

The study,, was instructive beyond Thoroughbred racing’s interests. State Senator John Bonacic, in addition to obvious destination communities such as Saratoga, related the impact the “Horse in the Sun” show had on the Town of Saugerties, where 15 million private sector dollars were used to construct a high end hotel, restaurant and conference center.

Critics of the VLT initiative, warning of its double-edged sword capability, should realize, too, how those dollars--no matter how temporary they might turn out to be--have acted as a stimulus for creating new revenue. In 2005, the horse industry’s economic impact was $2.4 billion. The study’s figures show a 75% increase post VLTs.

Handle at Yonkers Raceway currently is an estimated 15% higher than it was in 2005. The Standardbred broodmare population has grown 25% and stud fees for New York’s Standardbred stallions are up 140%. It all started with the VLTs initiative.

While the Thoroughbred industry awaited VLTs from 2004 and 2011, the state lost over 4,000 Thoroughbred industry jobs. One hundred of the state’s 400 Thoroughbred farms closed. The New York Thoroughbred foal crop dropped 34%. More than half of the Thoroughbred breeding stallions were shipped out of state.

This year, however, 500 new broodmares were relocated to New York this year and, through May, there has been a 39.4% increase in the number of foals reported. Farms are reopening and renovating and breeders from Kentucky, including the Vinery and Sheikh Mohammed, have begun sending stallions to New York.

Handle has increased at New York Racing Association meets this year, averaging double-digit increases. Yes, the shuttering of New York City Off Track Betting was responsible for much of the gains but, on balance, gift horses have been nowhere to be found.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce his new NYRA Board trustees any day now. Hopefully, they will include appointees who know something about what happens between the fences of New York’s three major Thoroughbred tracks. They don’t have to care.

To paraphrase a wise political operative from that same side of the aisle, who once said a few presidential campaigns ago: It’s the jobs, stupid.

Written by John Pricci

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