Pricci's Saratoga Diary
For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New York Racing On a Roll

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 9, 2011--No matter who the executives are at the moment, there’s a standard line that NYRA honchos love to use at the press conferences that take place here every year: “We’re the same downstate morons that turn into geniuses once we get up here.”

Whether it’s of their own volition, working actively behind the scenes, or whether some third party has come along to make things better, events have conspired to make the fortunes of the New York Racing Association appear a whole lot better.

The better news is that this is a good thing for the people of the state of New York, the tens of thousands who labor in what essentially is an agribusiness with an odds board, and perhaps even the industry as a whole.

It’s no different from the NFL, NBA, NHL or Major League Baseball. When the Giants, Knicks, Rangers and Yankees are winning, the sports leagues become stronger. When New York racing is thriving, the whole industry is viewed in a more favorable light.

Business has been brisk through the first two and a half weeks. Handle has increased across the board; on-track, at the in-house downstate simulcasts, and revenues collected from all sources, according to NYRA statistics.

Even on-track attendance was up through Saturday, but fell below last season’s figures because there was one less giveaway program, days that produce multiple admissions.

Racing has been excellent, too, not only at the highest levels which is expected, of course, but the day-to-day fare as well. It just seems there’s been an inordinate amount of close finishes at every level at this meeting. And now that the Saratoga calendar says August, the sport only figures to get better.

The news Tuesday that Uncle Mo’s first meaningful breeze, one in which he actually was asked to exert himself, went extremely well, his presence could juice up the always entertaining Travers card.

And the chance that the two best fillies in America, Blind Luck and Harve De Grace, might actually meet in the Personal Ensign, is a huge plus--if the event can be exploited properly.

Uncle Mo beat his older graded stakes winning workmate, top miler Caixa Electronica, in a five furlong move after spotting his elder a three-length head start. Todd Pletcher, who doesn’t excite easily, was ecstatic. Johnny Velazquez, who does not engage in hyperbole, said the colt felt great beneath him.

Political, social and economic gains have been made, too. With a little prodding from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, and with NYRA and the Empire State Development program in turn goosing the good folks over at the Churchill Downs Technical Initiatives Company, New York actually is getting lost jobs back.

A new call center will be erected in Erie County, in the Town of Amherst in the western part of the state, for the purpose of conducting telebet operations. Initially, 60 people will be hired as operators. In this environment, it’s good to see someone in government creating jobs and spurring investment.

Events seem to be developing quickly on this front. Last week, the State Racing and Wagering Board gave permission for the NYRA tracks to conduct simulcast wagering on harness races. Heretofore, cross-breed wagering has been the province of the state’s Off-Track Betting Corporations and harness tracks. A new day has dawned.

This action by the SRWB seems to clear the way for the NYRA to eventually become the state’s major simulcast bet taker. Some are saying privately that this is the first step for a NYRA takeover of off-track betting operations. And there is more karma afoot.

Congressman Chris Gibson announced Tuesday that he introduced a bill in the House of Representatives, the Wire Clarification Act of 2011, to insure that Internet wagering on Thoroughbred racing remains legal. Online wagering on horse racing recently has come under pressure.

“In upstate New York, we are fortunate to have Saratoga Race Track, the crown jewel of horseracing in New York State and the economic engine for our area,” Gibson said in a release. “To sustain much-needed tourism revenue and to protect thousands of jobs, we must ensure that horse wagering remains legal, as intended by federal law.”

Horseplayers have known these past few years how inconvenient it is to conduct horserace wagering online, the result of credit card companies deciding not to process betting transactions. Bet takers have gotten around this by using wire transfers, or creating payment options of their own, but the process remains a nightmare.

Making matters worse, the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve recently escalated the process by implementing a new set of rules on Internet gambling that could negatively impact Thoroughbred wagering online. In its zeal to crack down on illegal Internet gambling, the DOT has created some confusion as to what’s legal and what’s not.

Resultantly, credit card companies have become even more guarded, or have ceased to permit transactions for legitimate online horse wagers at all, even though Internet horse betting has long been permitted by the Interstate Horseracing Act.

Gibson’s proposed legislation is meant to clarify Internet gambling rules with respect to horse racing by making it clear that these new restrictions are not germane to betting horses across state lines, thus making it easier for credit card companies and horseplayers to conduct their affairs in a businesslike manner.

Today, Thoroughbred racing and the State of New York. Tomorrow, who knows? Not everything need be dysfunctional.

Written by John Pricci

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