Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Gov. Cuomo: Be Careful What You Wish For
On June 21, the New York State Legislature passed a bill to give effective control of NYRA to the Cuomo administration. Three months later, the Governor had still not signed the bill; nor had he provided any information publicly that indicated what would be done, and who would be doing it.
The only exception to the news blackout appeared to be occasional tidbits from unidentified sources dispensed by the New York Post’s Frederick U. Dicker who happens to be writing an authorized biography of the governor.
In the wee hours of September 24, Dicker apparently let multiple cats out of the bag in his ‘Governor’s ‘Bettor’ Way’ plan to kill NYRA and privatize horse racing
, some of which was confirmed a few hours later by Cuomo aide, Howard Glaser, on Dicker’s radio show which can be heard here
According to the DRF’s Matt Hegarty
, “Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, said on Monday morning that ‘the governor would have no comment on his plans for NYRA’s board or the information in Dicker’s column’.”
How in the name of greater transparency did we go from press conferences to disseminating information in drips and drabs through exclusive leaks to a favored member of the press who just happens to be writing an authorized biography?
My own reaction to Dicker’s revelation is one of amusement. It’s like falling asleep watching “Adam 12” and waking up to “Car 54 Where are you?”
Now I’m being scheduled to watch a replay of the Pataki era racing franchise renewal process and a revival of the deep-seated fears of Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) and Frank Stronach that were clearly in evidence among Saratoga supporters during the hearings. I’ve read this book before … the title was “Portnoy’s Complaint.”
Wrote Dicker: ”State officials believe operators of such prestigious tracks as Churchill Downs, …, as well as the managers of major entertainment destinations, will pay huge fees to run the three New York tracks.
“… It will take several months to draw up the specifics and bids will likely be solicited by the middle of next year.
“…Why not let Churchill Downs compete with Santa Anita, …, with Madison Square Garden for the best operation of the tracks?’’ asked the source.
“Aides to Cuomo had worked for months on a sweeping NYRA reorganization plan in preparation of the governor’s signing of new legislation giving the state direct control of the 55-year-old racing association’s operations.
“But in mid-summer, as the Saratoga meet got under way, the Cuomo aides decided that NYRA’s organizational structure and management team, …, wasn’t up to the job and that a new approach — proven outside management — was needed.
‘The NYRA model won’t work. It’s flawed, and it’s unable to do the job. Privatizing makes the most sense,’’ said the source.’
Hegarty reported, ”Howard Glaser … said … ‘the state is considering issuing a request for proposals to replace NYRA, the not-for-profit company that by law holds the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga until 2033.
“The option will be considered once NYRA’s board is reconstituted with a majority of state appointees and the new board has time to assess the association’s operations ... ‘We’ll see when the new board is in place what the ultimate review will entail,’ ”
Then things got a little more interesting. Continued Glaser: “…The “legal franchise” continues to reside with NYRA…that doesn’t change. That was part of a legal agreement. But that’s a different question as to who the operator is.”’
Surely Team Cuomo remembers CDI’s purchase of Hollywood Park and its subsequent failure to generate sufficient profits without the ability to install slot machines. As a result, CDI sold the track to the same developer who eventually razed Bay Meadows in Northern California and now plans the same fate for its Southern California property.
Did the Cuomo aides forget the Magna bankruptcy that followed Frank Stronach’s acquisition of racetracks in Florida, Maryland, California and elsewhere? Did they ignore not one, but two unsuccessful installations of synthetic surfaces at Santa Anita followed by a re-installation of a dirt surface at multi-million dollar expense each time?
Then there’s this: Would the political aspirations of the man who wouldn’t allow NYRA to outsource telephone call center jobs to CDI withstand the hypocrisy of outsourcing racetrack management jobs to Kentucky or elsewhere?
And how would the failure of “New” NYRA to improve the situation over the next three years impact the Governor’s political future?
In her “Saratogian” column
, Barbara Lombardo zeroed in on two Glaser understatements, “One thing is clear: The functioning of NYRA is substandard.”
and “I think it’s indisputable that NYRA has had a series of flaws in its management.”
Lombardo also pointed out that “Glaser did suggest that the three tracks could actually have different management, noting that Aqueduct “has a very different character” than it did before the introduction of slots and has a “very different character than Saratoga.”’
One could argue that it wasn’t the NYRA model that was dysfunctional, but rather its practitioners. Indeed it was a rudderless ship that sailed successfully into Saratoga’s September sunset with diminished and discouraged decision-making capacity. Some contend the current culture of leadership commenced well before the wayward Hayward came onboard.
I don’t see “New” NYRA losing its license to run Saratoga and it’s hard to imagine any entity not based in New York ever getting control of Belmont. I think it’s more likely that racing operations at Aqueduct would shut down than it is that some other entity would take it over.
When did Team Cuomo decide that evolution was insufficient and that revolution was necessary? When did the Blues Brothers suffer the illusion they were the Founding Fathers? Once they finally emerge from their deafening silence we can determine whether they were enrolled in witness or witless protection.
Oversight without insight is lunacy.
Written by Indulto
Monday, September 17, 2012
What, Me Worry?
Sometimes it seems to me that lots of horseplayers of my generation must have at one-time been readers of “Mad Magazine,” and some eventually became disciples of its “What Me Worry” character, Alfred E. Neumann.
Not so racing columnists Nick Kling, Paul Moran, and John Pricci, whose recent pieces reflected their author’s worries that this year’s Saratoga meet might not only have worn out writers and workers, but playing race watchers as well.
In It’s a wrap at Saratoga 144
, Mr. Kling wrote, “It's over. The 144th Saratoga Thoroughbred meet concluded Monday, 1,104 hours and 417 races after it began.
… Everybody loves the Spa season, and it beats the pants off most of the racing in the rest of America. Nevertheless, many have a guilty feeling of relief the meet is over.
The common theme is that were too many races, punctuated by an overabundance of cheap class levels which is not what Saratoga is supposed to be about. Several people have told me how they were worn out before the end of the card. Fans exiting early became a common sight this year.
… The seeming contradiction between on-track and total handle is evidence of the aforementioned on-track fatigue.”
In Where does Saratoga go from here?
, Paul Moran opined, “… this meeting was one of overextension in every sense; far too many races, days too long, and six-day weeks do not lend themselves to a festive atmosphere…
“By the meeting's fifth week, Labor Day could not come soon enough. Based upon the standard nine-race weekday and 10-race weekends, NYRA crammed the equivalent of more than 47 days of racing into 40. It did not pay off unless the point was to clear the grounds early and alienate both fans and staff.”
In Vox Populi and Streams From the Subconcious
, Mr. Pricci suggested, “… when compared to a typical downstate race-week, five days per week with 10 on weekends—Saturdays, anyway—it was as if 7-1/2 weeks were condensed into 6-1/2.
“… For the most part, despite one additional day this year, attendance was flat.
“... We were dead wrong about the projected handle. It’s the sense we had by watching people leave the track in significant numbers two or three races before the finale.
This, in a sense, underscores the belief of many wagering theoreticians that there’s a finite amount of betting money to be spent in any one session, whether that time frame is nine of 12 races long.”
I submit that what these gentlemen witnessed was a combination of the effects of 1) the extended life expectancy for aging horseplayers, 2) the likelihood that many attendees among the locals have a life outside the racetrack, and 3) the psychology of the unrebated player; the relevancy of which can be expressed by paraphrasing Amanda Mc Broom in her song, “The Rose:”
“When the losses are too frequent
And the bankroll is too small
And you think winning is only
For the lucky and the rich...”
I can speak with some authority on the loneliness of the long-distance horseplayer. One year during the ‘60s, I attended every day of the Saratoga meet -- losing over the first two weeks, and winning over the last two, but unable to show a profit with the costs of travel, parking, admission, Past Performances, and programs factored in. My rent for August had already been paid, and I would have had to eat my own cooking that month no matter what. When it was over, I decided to show up for my new job as planned.
Almost a decade later, I took a vacation during the last 2 weeks of Saratoga and stayed on for Belmont until my winning streak ended. Even after expenses, I flew home with more than I left with, and a memory that time seems to have enhanced. The IRS, however, eventually made short work of the former since I had little free time available to lose some of it back that year.
Do Winners Get Weary?
Unfortunately, others here will have to testify. I haven’t been back to Saratoga since, and I’ve never had another opportunity to immerse myself in the game for more than a weekend nor enjoyed the same extended success.
Fatigue wasn’t a factor over four weeks and some 200 interesting handicapping puzzles for a fellow in his 20s or 30s but these days I can’t even handle two successive days of immersion into the Breeders’ Cup races. Luckily, however, Zenyatta raced in the Saturday events the last two years of her career.
Last year, the racing gods seemed determined to frustrate what could have been my best-ever performance as a handicapper. Does Turallure – ALL mean anything to you? Fortunately, Drosselmeyer enabled me to end the day on a high note.
Had I actually achieved such a score in my younger days, I hope I’d have immediately started handicapping the next day’s Pick Six. But wait! That wager didn’t exist back then and NYRA didn’t race on Sundays.
I suppose that I would have had to be single as well: A woman’s wariness can be a greater obstacle than a man’s when it comes to extending unexpected winnings.
I’ve since learned that too much racing, with too many wagering options, subject to a too-high takeout rate that requires too large a bankroll doesn’t represent opportunity for the recreational player. Worse, it leads to wariness among would-be wager makers.
Was Bob Ehalt’s column, “More Saratoga would be a good thing
targeting the tiring, turf-writing trio above, or was he trying to titillate his readers with tongue–in-cheek testimony? Whatever his motivation, his willingness to alliterate is always welcome.
“Another sensational season at Saratoga has slipped away…and there’s one particular question begging for an answer.
“Could there be too much of a good thing?
“…The final attendance and wagering figures reflect that the Spa’s charm is hardly growing old.
“…So what will Team Cuomo do with a track that attracts 22,526 fans a day and handles $14.7 million a day in wagers? They’ll no doubt try to maximize or enhance revenue from the Spa …
“…So why not dispose with the pretense and make Saratoga the summer-long home of New York racing, and conduct the meet from the Fourth of July through Labor Day?
“…Horsemen and track workers may not like being away from home for two months, but it’s the fans that propel the sport …”
Even if a) Saratoga were somehow able to balance the demand for its resources for all its attractions during that period, b) the bankrolls of unrebated bettors were able to go the distance, c) the eyes of the young at heart didn’t glaze over at the sight of PPs for NY-breds, d) the turf course held up for eight weeks of turf sprints, and e) Mr. Pricci’s Diary remained a daily resource, the gains from Saratoga could be offset by losses at Belmont -- both pre- and post-Saratoga -- once something really special became commonplace.
Anticipation is defined as “an emotion involving pleasure, excitement, and sometimes anxiety in considering some expected or longed-for good event.” It is synonymous with enthusiasm, eagerness, and hope. It’s what Saratoga is all about. It’s what Aqueduct had going for it when horses still migrated South with the birds in winter.
I wouldn’t say that Mr. Ehalt’s proposal is for the birds, but it might just kill the Golden Goose.
Written by Indulto
Thursday, September 06, 2012
As we await the details of the implementation of “New NYRA," a few updates to some topics already discussed here are in order:
Neil Milbert of the Chicago Tribune
reported that Churchill Downs rejected Hawthorne’s appeal to include its Illinois Derby among the qualifying races for the Kentucky Derby.
“We flew down there for a meeting and it was suggested that moving the date would be of significance," Carey said. "We were willing to move (from the first Saturday in April) to March to be part of it and we got back to them. About three days later we got a letter from (Churchill track President Kevin Flannery) saying 'No, we can't do it.'"
What strikes me as self-defeating about this “redistricting” of horsemen is that -- unlike most UAE Derby starters -- Most Illinois Derby starters have Kentucky Derby aspirations. Can anyone name any U.S. horseman likely to ship to the UAE and back in order to qualify? Couldn’t Aiden O’Brien just as easily ship here to qualify, and get better results to boot?
Media focus resumed on the hopefully soon-to-be-announced “New” NYRA leadership. One could almost hear the “Star Wars” theme blasting in Paul Moran’s reference to the State’s chief executive at ESPN
, where he discussed the “… void left by the overthrow of a hapless board of trustees larded with those due political consideration and the announced intent to replace it with a hapless board almost purely composed of those due political consideration, the immediate period, post Saratoga, is critical.
“It is important that the inevitably inept be able to recognize and hire those who are highly capable, a difficult equation to balance. This will reveal immediately much concerning the intent of Gov. Andrew (Darth Vader) Cuomo regarding the future of racing and breeding in New York.
“For starters, NYRA needs a battle-tested chief executive officer with chops and the authority to carry out the remainder of a stem to stern retooling that results in more real production and fewer vice presidents. If a nation can function with one vice president, so can NYRA.”
Unfortunately no individuals were identified to play the Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo roles Mr. Moran subsequently defined. Others, however, did mention some possibilities.
On August 15
, Vic Zast blogged, “… Lou Raffetto, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California and a person with 30 years experience of operating racetracks successfully in Maryland, New Jersey and Boston, was on the grounds, looking snappy. If the appointment of a new general manager for Saratoga was left up to fans, he’d be the selection.”
: On August 19
, HRI Executive Editor, John Pricci, wrote; “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.”
In comment #18 to the preceding, Sean Kerr, who leads a group of increasingly influential supporters of a National Horse Racing Commission called “Bladerunners,” opined; “We need a Jeff Seder - we need someone who has succeeded in taking a business and turning it into an innovative success.
“We need audacity: but that word is antithetical to the political world for the most part. And without audacity - NY racing is doomed.”
I assume Mr. Kerr was referring so passionately to the gentleman interviewed here
On August 28
, Bill Finley wrote; “There are a handful of terrific racing executives out there who would likely accept the job, even though the head positions at NYRA have always paid way less than they should. He could hire someone like Lou Raffetto, Bill Nader or Nick Nicholson and the future of New York racing would be in the type of good hands that would immediately ease the worries so many have for the sport.”
While Nader and Nicholson would come from two of the world’s most successful racing operations in Hong Kong and Kentucky, respectively, Raffetto would come from dysfunctional circumstances he did not create, but did not improve.
Some would argue that his credentials prior to his current stint in California have been compromised by his controversial role in continued concert with the organizations that control racing in that state in overwhelming deference to horsemen at horseplayer expense. Nader and Nicholson do not suffer from an anti-horseplayer perception.
Nader might be the best long-term choice, especially in New York where he is already a popular figure among NYRA customers. However, it is that very connection with the past that makes his approval by Gov. Cuomo, a longshot at best despite this statement
by Bennett Liebman from March, 2007: “Without Bill Nader, is there a soul at NYRA with any significant management experience?”
But here is where my research got really interesting because the same Google search that found the preceding Liebman article, also found an earlier one
from June, 2005.
Is a villain’s helmet the appropriate headgear for the governor considering it wasn’t exactly a NYRA baseball Cap that Mr. Liebman was wearing when he wrote; “… everyone knew that Bill Nader and Charlie Hayward were good guys. Why wouldn’t a rational State of New York want these guys to run the racetracks?”
“… There should be an effort made to make the majority of the current trustees leave the Board. There may not be a formal basis for removal of these members, but there should be an effort made to persuade the NYRA Board members who have been on the NYRA board since before 2003 to leave the Board.
They have saddled the NYRA with financial, political, and legal problems that are nearly insolvable. If the State sees NYRA as the Board that sat back and did nothing while letting Barry Schwartz’s son-in-law get NYRA’s web contract without a bid, it doesn’t matter how nice Charlie Hayward and Bill Nader may be. For the good of NYRA, these people should go on their own.”
Was Liebman also referring to Hayward and Nader? Why was Hayward not subsequently attributed with “significant management experience’ more than five years ago?
Finally, Belmont survivor, Street Life, was injured in the Travers and has been retired. Like Bob Dylan asked; “How many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn’t see?”
Alpha’s sweep of the Jim Dandy and Travers was the second in successive years, but last year’s winner and Derby/Belmont survivor, Stay Thirsty, never won again. Will this year’s co-winner, Golden Ticket, whose victory followed a nearly three-month layoff, be the most likely three-year-old to annex the Breeders’ Cup Classic? Will he try to do it without a prep again?
Written by Indulto