Monday, September 24, 2012

The Ecstacy of Profit

By Brendan O'Meara

New York Racing Association President and CEO Ellen McClain is about ten paces before a firing squad eagerly led by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The mighty hammer crusheth. Even Thor would be impressed by Cuomo’s for-profit, I-get-to-nominate-eight-people on the board for the New New NYRA.

Privatization of the Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga is on the move and may the tracks go to the highest bidder. Fall is the season of change, but usually the leaves fall off, not entire trees.

A Cuomo aide told the New York Post, “Why not let Churchill Downs compete with Santa Anita, with Formula One, with Madison Square Garden for the best operation of the tracks? The NYRA model won’t work. It’s flawed, and it’s unable to do the job. Privatizing makes the most sense.”
Hard to argue for NYRA’s model. After all, it has been bankrupt, gone through many franchise sparrings and been through a takeout scandal costing horseplayers a collective $8.5 million.

The problem is the for-profit models haven’t exactly made a soufflé that stands up to gravity. Santa Anita successfully nabs the Breeders’ Cup, but then has track surface problems and waffles under public outcry finally going back to dirt. It really likes the Breeders’ Cup.

Churchill Downs Inc has cut race days and if it weren’t for the Kentucky Derby, would it even be relevant? I’m not going to begin to try and unravel the Gordian Knot of Magna Entertainment. And these are the models that promise to make NYRA better?

Governor Cuomo is set to sign legislation that would create 17-member board where he nominates eight, four chosen by the Legislature and five from NYRA’s current board of directors. If it sounds like a big, hairy mess, that’s because this thing looks like a Yeti.

The source told the New York Post at NYRA, “Nobody really had the best interests of the horses in mind,’’ said the source.

Now the wheels are coming off the Mega Bus. Don’t sit there and pretend a for-profit agency gives a damn about animal welfare any more than a not-for-profit. NYRA racetracks got accreditation for safety. Are these guys going to put the “Have A Nice Day” smiley face on the death screen?

For-profit let Life At Ten walk nine furlongs around Churchill Downs. For-profit companies feed bovines corn and stand them up in muddy paddocks flank-to-flank. For-profit companies juice up chickens so fast their legs can’t support them. Yet this for-profit is going to have the best interest of the animals at heart?

We’ll see what happens when the hoof meets the dirt. Will this for-profit let a filly run around the oval at risk to her health and several others? Keep the $2 million?
Or will this for-profit get it right?

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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