August 19, 2012—Travers week has officially arrived and the buzz all around town is not about whether Kiaran McLaughlin will be the first trainer since Carl Nafzger to sweep the Alabama-Travers double [Lady Joanne and Street Sense in 2007].

Nor is it about whether the Travers colts can run as fast as Alabama heroine Questing: one and one-quarter miles in 2:01.69. (We're taking 'over' the total).

Instead, this is the Saratoga meet where sport has played a subordinate role to politics and New York racing’s future--that is if the present Governor will allow Thoroughbred racing to have a future as we’ve known it and, if he does, what that future would look like.

The big question re all that is who will handle the reins, who will be chosen to right a ship that has been listing since the NYRA’s former management ignored the sun-setting of a takeout provision that cost horseplayers across the country $8.5 million.

And if Mr. Cuomo someday decides to cut off the VLT largesse because machines don’t have families, don’t need health care, and don’t need a pension for the day they just can’t do it anymore, what then?

That is the day when all that is left in the horseplayer, the most underappreciated, taken-for-granted and, at times, abused customer any going concern ever had.

Who will remain on the job at the New York Racing Association after the state-loaded Board of Trustees is named is anyone’s guess. One would have to think that NYRA staffers, at least, are safe. They're the ones who
show up every day and put on the show, even on dark days.

The New York Racing Association has been on automatic pilot for some time, even before the top executives were terminated. Without the racing office, officials, administrators of every stripe, and the horsemen that have remained loyal to New York racing throughout, this show would not have gone on.

As an official said to me the other day, “the ship might veer off course a little from time to time, but the crew is still down in the engine room working.”

Sadly and expectedly, politicians should have kept their mouths closed rather than open them and remove all doubt that on matters pertaining to racing they’re in over their heads.

Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow has been serving New Yorkers from the 87th district for 20 years. Laudably, he was the author “Cynthia’s Law,” which established that reckless assault of a child should be a class D felony. The measure also raised awareness for shaken baby syndrome. This is what public serice should be about.

But as the Chair of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee, his role has been passive. Recently, Mr. Pretlow came to the defense of acting NYRA President Ellen McClain, stating that she’s getting a “bad deal” from the shakeup expected to take place at meet’s end.

Ms. McClain has excellent credentials in the business community and was hired as NYRA’s Chief Financial Officer. She should return to that post when changes finally are made. When it comes to the demands placed on a racetrack CEO, she is out of her element and overmatched.

Mr. Pretlow, racing is not a business in which a top-class manager can show up, surround himself with the best talent available, then make the right decisions that not only affect the bottom line but the lives of thousands of extended members of this state’s huge racing family.

Everything that happens on the racetrack, whether it occurs on the backside or the front-side, is in lockstep with everything else. Wagering is not the only area where the term commingling applies.

Do I have any special knowledge about who will take the reins? No, but I hear rumors like anyone else. As for former President Charlie Hayward’s replacement, the names heard most often are Lou Raffetto’s and Bill Murphy’s, by a margin of about 2-1.

Both men are very well respected within the industry and by most horsemen, and generally are loved by anyone who has worked under them. Both have vast experience and credentials. Either would make a worthy successor.

Raffetto is currently President of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, where his tenure has been fraught with difficulty as the problems facing the industry are especially sensitive out west.

In working for the California horsemen, he’s run afoul of horseplayers with respect to the takeout issue. But it should be noted that when he was COO and President of the Maryland Jockey Club, he reduced takeout at the now defunct Laurel summer meet. There is evidence all over, especially now at Del Mar, that lower trakeout and fractional betting in tandem works, and it works big-time.

In addition to high-level management positions at Laurel and Pimlico, Raffetto has groomed and trained horses and served as a racing secretary. Other positions he held included assistant general manager at Monmouth Park, Executive Vice-President of Racing at Suffolk Downs and CEO of the National Steeplechase Association.

Murphy was a Vice President and General Manager of Racing Operations at Gulfstream Park and at Thistledown Race Course. He too groomed horses, was an assistant starter and the youngest track superintendent ever appointed at Hialeah, and the Director of Operations at Detroit Race Course. Murphy current serves as an Expressbet executive.

Obviously, either man would be well qualified to help lead New York racing back to its classy roots. And both understand the plight of the horseplayer, being bettors themselves. If not, their tenure would have unwanted distractions. The pools need to be fed. Like the adage says; you need to spend money to make money.

Should either man assume the role, or whoever it may be,he needs to seriously consider making Richard Migliore the operations face of the new company.

Well-liked by racing fans, respected by horsemen, a hands-on practitioner, bloodstock consultant and now media-savvy talent, Migliore has an eye for the details that have been ignored for years, not the least of which is the plight of the horseplaying customer.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am friendly with all three of these men. None have lobbied for my support, which is probably wise on their part. But I have lots of friends in this business and the ones that stick know my philosophy: Be good to the game that's been good to you.

Time has come to go back to the future.