Thursday, January 31, 2013
LOS ANGELES, January 28, 2013--The news that two of racing's most prominent and polarizing personalities had joined forces appeared to some to be as inappropriate as it was ironic.
Indeed the announced partnering of Frank Stronach with Keith Brackpool was not greeted with enthusiasm by many of the latter’s detractors who would have preferred that the sometimes abrasive and frequently dismissive former Chairman of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) have little influence and no control over California racing once he stepped down from the board.
Brackpool told the Daily Racing Form that 'he has taken an "equity share" in the Stronach Group of racetracks and horse racing-related entities' and 'he will direct Stronach's West Coast operations...'
'"I'm a huge fan of the sport," Brackpool said. "We can do amazing things with the sport or I wouldn't put my money where my mouth is."'
What some horseplayers found amazing was the arrogance with which he put their money in the mouths of the California horse owning and training elite by raising takeout on exotic wagers to increase purses.
According to the Blood Horse, 'Keith Brackpool has entered into an agreement to acquire a minor stake in The Stronach Group. The company's Racing and Gaming Group announced Jan. 19 that Brackpool has joined the group's board of directors and has been appointed chairman of its operations in California.
"I have had a chance to interface with Keith over the past few years and have been extremely impressed with his knowledge and commitment to horseracing in California. We look forward to our future partnership," said Frank Stronach, co-chairman and founder of The Stronach Group.'
Still another viewpoint appeared in a public email to Andy Asaro's industry distribution list, in which columnist/handicapper Richard Eng wrote, "These moves deserve an explanation.
In Nevada, when a commissioner leaves the Gaming Control Board, there is a 1-year grace period before he or she can take a job in the gaming industry. This is to avoid any hint of impropriety while serving as a board member in charge of overseeing the gaming industry."
Eng followed up with, "I find it interesting there has been no reaction to the movement among Mr. Brackpool, the CHRB and the Stronach Group.
This type of maneuvering would not be allowed in the Gaming Industry in Nevada."
The "revolving door" policy was addressed at the Paulick Report: "Brackpool, …, is prohibited from lobbying the horse racing board for one year under regulations of the Fair Political Practices Commission, Title 2, Division 6, California Code of Regulations."
"There is a very strict one-year policy, and we are completely in adherence to that law," Brackpool told the Paulick Report. "It will be completely respected."
The benefits of Brackpool’s contacts to the Stronach Group may well have already accrued. How many "interactions" between the regulator and the regulated were required (and how much time) to lay the groundwork for their becoming "one?"
Interestingly, Brackpool’s New York State counterpart, recently retired Racing and Wagering Board chairman, John Sabini, said, "… he left before that [agency’s closing] date because he isn’t allowed by state ethics law to pursue other jobs while still chairman."
Too bad no equity opportunity opened up for him overnight!
The DRF article mentioned that "Brackpool owns the Manhattan Beach (Calif.) Country Club and is a close associate of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa." The B-H noted that "Brackpool was appointed to the racing board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Sept. 24, 2009. He became chairman in January 2010. His appointment was through July 26, 2013."
How does one get so close to both a Republican governor and a mayor who's a Democrat? One can only speculate as to the roles of campaign contributions, country club comforts, and charismatic companionship in establishing the connections with the two enablers
Only one aspect of this union is predictable: if and when Stronach decides he's had enough -- equity position or not -- the egress will be Brackpool's.
Now that the head horseplayer alienator us gone, the sometime seemingly headless one is now in charge as CHRB Vice Chairman David Israel assumed the duties of chairman. Prior to his announcement, Brackpool was noticeably if not conveniently absent from the previous day's CHRB meeting at which Hollywood Park President, Jack Liebau, became the first California racing stakeholder to publicly, albeit belatedly, challenge the Brackpool-spearheaded takeout increase.
To a man, every horseplayer I know was motivated by this now classic 2010 editorial by former HRI blogger, Bill Christine, "Get Out the Lifeboats" in advance f the Players' Boycott. He wrote, "... it's definitely time for Brackpool and David Israel, ..., to move on. They are supposed to lead racing out of the wilderness, but they can't see the thickets for the shrubs."
The preceding and many other articles justifying the boycott can be found here, including one of my own in response to a symposium speech of Mr. Israel's. My passion at that time has been partially re-ignited by Mr. Liebau's remarks. Hopefully other horseplayer advocates will also see them as the vanguard of customer representation at the CHRB.
Perhaps outside of Brackpool's shadow, Mr. Israel will more equitably deal with horseplayer interests. That would be more likely if the appointed replacement is someone who already has that perspective. An excellent choice would be the above-referenced veteran turf writer, Mr. Christine, who's seen and heard it all before, and isn't afraid to tell it the way it really is.
Raw ambition and ruthlessness are said to run rampant in racing. The expansion of exotic wagering reflects the fortune seeking nature of the game's participants. Those who run racing tend to be existing fortune holders seeking greater fortunes. The term "fortune hunter" is an unflattering one applied to seekers of wealth through marriage. The more formidable the fortune focused upon, the further the hunter must be prepared to go with fewer restraints. While it's not clear who is exploiting whom in this marriage of financial and political resources, it's safe to say that racing's customers will be paying for the wedding … and its aftermath.