LOS ANGELES, February 17, 2013—Governor Cuomo’s Not-Yet-Reality-Accepting racetrack management team is not permitted to bet on races yet they are willing to gamble that:

A: People will be willing to pay exorbitant admission fees on Belmont Stakes day even if no Triple Crown attempt materializes.

B: The weather is going to cooperate.

C: Sufficient quality horseflesh can be attracted to compete for absurdly inflated purses in wager-compelling fields.

By essentially combining Memorial Day and Belmont Stakes Day into one and increasing their total stakes purses by $3.1M, the New York Racing Assn. seeks to make their biggest day even bigger. By gutting other weekend cards of graded stakes and concentrating them on fewer, bigger weekends, they expect to increase total handle for the meet.

Even if that expansion occurs, will profitability even be possible given the recent purse hikes?

Some contend the amount of money available to racing on a weekend basis has its limits and base that conclusion on the fact that Breeders’ Cup total handle for Friday and Saturday cards hasn’t significantly exceeded the one-day Saturday event.

NYRA customers bet more than one out of every five dollars wagered nationwide. Belmont Stakes day is already NYRA’s best attraction in terms of attendance and handle; roughly doubling the 13 or 14-race Travers-day handle and more than quadruple the money bet on either of the 11-race Met Mile and Jockey Gold Cup programs.

With national television coverage available, many who could experience the event in person will opt to watch it in high-definition in the comfort and convenience of their living rooms. And many will be encouraged to bet more on-line with money saved from transportation/parking, food/beverage and admission/seating costs.

Raising prices on the latter is the best promotion for staying home.

Many observers agree that year-round live racing has already reduced the game’s specialness and eliminated the anticipatory excitement that seasonal venues experience.

And now the reverence normally observed for championship-level sport is being squandered by squeezing several month’s of stakes racing into a single weekend.

Worse, multiple events could cannibalize racing’s glamour division. Why risk siphoning off any three-year-olds from a possible Belmont Stakes run?

Both the G1 Metropolitan Handicap and especially the G2 Brooklyn Handicap likely would be better positioned after the Belmont, positioning it closer to the Whitney. The Met Mile might attract top three-year-olds prepping for the Haskell and/or Travers as well.

And I’ve always why there was no tie-in between last year’s Belmont Stakes winners and this year’s Brooklyn, a natural extension for Elmont-loving three year olds to return for some big money at four?

Is this year’s Brooklyn capable of attracting a field worthy of $200K, much less $500K? And will hiking the Met Mile purse from $750K to $1.25M adversely affect the handicap division nationwide? When will the competitive madness between racetracks end? (Since racing is more regional than national in scope, it appears that answer is never).

Raising the Belmont Stakes purse will prove to be a waste unless the Derby and Preakness winners both show up. And wouldn’t the race be better served if the winner of a Louisville-Baltimore rubber match be eligible for a bonus? Speaking of bonuses, shouldn’t the Triple Crown bonus scheme be reprised? In my opinion, no undercard race not named Breeders’ Cup deserves a $1M purse.

The purse elevations of the Manhattan, Ogden Phipps (even with Beholder and Princess Of Sylmar), and Acorn seem particularly unreasonable. What works for Breeders’ Cup doesn’t really have practical applications anywhere else.

Since management is willing to “experiment” with the allocation of slots revenue, why not try lowering effective takeout for on-track bettors rather than further subsidize the wealthiest owners? This could be achieved in either of two ways: paying a 10% bonus to on-track winners or selling one-day use betting vouchers at a 10% discount on-track.

Would any drop in revenue from a lower takeout come even close to the added infusion of cash into the purse accounts, with or without a Triple Crown bid?

Isn’t it ironic that the maximum takeout in Kentucky is lower without slots than New York is with them?

The Triple Crown trail through the Classics demonstrates the value of making horses recognizable to the general public. So, too, would the game benefit from additional divisional series that rewards consistent multiple performances against one another through a bonus program instead of bestowing higher financial rewards one race at a time.


Stacking 10 stakes on Belmont Day does not constitute a mini-Breeders Cup day or even a mini-Jockey Gold Cup day. In my opinion it’s a hastily concocted hedge against the absence of a Triple Crown attempt that does little to eliminate dependence on slots revenue and an unhealthy distribution of funds. Overvaluing races while undervaluing customers only reinforces the organization’s imperial image the Governor once indicated he would eradicate.

No decision of this magnitude could have been made without approval from the Governor’s inner circle, and I wonder if this plan truly was supported by feedback from the Racing Fan Advisory Council, the formation of which was an early attempt by Team Cuomo “regulators to consider more than just the views of owners, trainers and breeders.”

If nothing else, this decision has generated a lot of commentary that has raised the visibility of Belmont Stakes Day in February without spending any money at all. Is this is the wave of the future: marketing through controversy; customer acquisition by provocation? Horseplayers can’t always be organized but can easily be antagonized.