As we await the details of the implementation of “New NYRA," a few updates to some topics already discussed here are in order:

ITEM: 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?

ITEM: 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.

ITEM: 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.”

ITEM: 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.

ITEM: 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.

ITEM: 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?