In this corner we have a former friend of Saratoga and of the sport, New York State Senate Majority Leader, Joseph L. Bruno (-R). (I say “former,” because Joe’s most recent idea for “saving” the sport is a concept forged in backroom meetings with political cronies. This idiot’s romp—which I’ll spell out in a minute—stinks, for myriad reasons. This scheme may have hatched over a plate of gnocchi ‘n sausage on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. And I’m Italian—so I’m allowed to say that.)
(I’m convinced that Governor Steamroller actually hates Thoroughbred racing for some deep, personal reason, for which he may need therapy, to work through some family issue. Maybe his Uncle Sy lost the family house, to pay off horse gambling debts. Not my problem—not OUR problem. Work through it, Eliot, and do your job objectively.)
The reason I charge that he hates the sport is that, at every turn, The Man Who Would Be King has tried to kick racing in the onions. This vendetta began long before he donned the ermine Governor’s cape. As Attorney General, he tried his damndest to deep-six NYRA. Now, in a move that looks like Making Nice, he’s chosen NYRA as the best-possible operator. Pick an opinion, Eliot, based on insightful, honest information about what’s best for the sport—NOT for State coffers, or your own political dreams.
He must lie awake at night, thinking of new ways to destroy the sport in the Empire State. I do NOT think this because he chose NYRA, not at all. Hear me out.
No, my opinion is forged from my own icky feelings (think, dirty diapers) following a dialogue with his henchman, Richard Rifkin--and the fact that not once did Eliot set foot on the grounds of Saratoga Race Course until Travers Day. Saratoga Springs’ insightful Mayor, the Honorable Valerie Keehn, invited Emperor Eliot to tour the city and Race Course on more than one occasion. I reiterated the invitation when I spoke with Rifkin in June. Several Saratoga publications put it out there. But noooooooooo, New York’s new ruler never came onto the grounds--UNTIL the biggest race day of the 2007 meet, when photo opps abounded. It was all about appearances, glad-handing and Being Seen.
In the end, he doesn’t care a tiny rat’s ass what happens to New York Thoroughbreds, owners, trainers, breeders or fans. As long as he can suck obscene, unfair (illegal?) amounts of cash from VLTs and handle; stuff the proffered cash into State coffers; and look like the Fiscal Saviour to taxpayers. Another stepping stone on the path to the White House.
Eliot’s scheme—and it IS a scheme, for it has nothing to do with his belief that NYRA is best for racing—this scheme is deceptively simple. From the outside, is merely seems that he acknowledges that NYRA is the best candidate, and so wants to let NYRA keep the franchise for another 30 years.
But, ah, there’s always a rub: the caveat to this is that NYRA must relinquish its claim of ownership of the three tracks and their land. Eliot knows that a court ruling on the matter would find in favor of NYRA—and that would ruin his land-development plans.
So NYRA would have to give up its claim. And we can all see where His Highness aims to take this: racing eventually phased out. All VLTs, All the Time—except for Aqueduct, which he’ll raze and sell to one of his real estate development bedpartners. Can you see another Co-Op City in Jamaica, right on the LIRR? I wonder how much money Eliot would make, personally, from such a sweetheart deal.
So we have two men using the situation to vent their personal hatred for each other--and a third man, who's really acting on behalf of his organization.
* Spitzer: A man who hates our sport, taking over our racetracks—as landholder, the State WILL be able to dictate what happens to the property. I don’t know about you, but New York State—NO government entity—is my first choice as a landlord. Eminent Domain is a very real, very scary probability here. The field is littered with red flags.
So, Eliot’s version of how it should be played out, that face which he’s presenting to the public, seems so simple: let NYRA keep racing. But his other face—and he IS two-faced, at the very least—is looking to fulfill election promises he made to his development friends. Count on it.
* And then there’s Joe Bruno and his new program. Joe, Joe, Joe: you’ve finally had that long-overdue stroke. You, who’ve publicly spoken against Big Government for so many years, have obviously suffered a brain accident, causing you to push for a shiny, new government agency. You’ve proposed the establishment of the New York State Racing, Gaming and Equine Sports Development Corporation. A corporation comprised of 11 political appointees, leftovers from (former Governor) George Pataki’s IOU List. Joe, you needn’t lose your credibility because your Republican colleague didn’t get to pay off his job debts while he was still in office.
These 11 hand-chosen court jesters would supposedly “oversee” and choose the administrators of every phase of racing—no doubt, more friends of friends. This Nepotism Tree has more branches than a polygamist’s family reunion.
This idea is not good, Joe, for oh-so-many reasons:
* You aim to populate this Corporation with 11 people outside the racing industry: ineffectual, inefficient, inexperienced in the sport. Eleven buddies who know nothing about this sport, but who know everything about bureaucracy and scratching each other’s backs. Now, Joe, the Racing and Wagering Board is overseen by political appointees—and we see how well THAT’S going, right? What makes you think that 11 more sycophants, with no body of knowledge in this very-complicated sport—can actually RUN the sport?
* The phrase, “Equine Sports”—Joe, you, of all people, know that this phrase encompasses many, many sports BESIDES Thoroughbred racing. Harness racing; hunter/jumper; eventing; dressage; barrel-racing; cutting…Joe, the list goes on and on. Using that multifaceted word, “equine” really opens a can of worms: once your political appointees get that rush of power that comes with “running” Thoroughbred racing, it’s inevitable that they’re going to crave the power to mismanage ALL equine sports in New York. If they don’t know anything about our ONE sport, the idea that they’ll be fit to administer ALL the equine sports in the State is ridiculous. Every sport is complicated: that’s why there are people called, Experts, in any given sport. Your 11 corporate screws will show that they’re inept in many equine disciplines, not just one. Were I involved with any of those other sports, I’d be very nervous about this proposed Corporation.
* The idea of this Corporation is that it would be like unto the New York State Thruway and Bridge Authorities. YIKES. You mean, the same Bridge Authority that slept through the collapse of the Schoharie Creek bridge a few years back? The collapse that killed people, and caused all New York bridges to finally be evaluated—and found to be on the verge? THAT Bridge Authority?
Yes, that’s precisely what New York needs—another ineffectual government agency, populated by political appointees, whose job is to “oversee” racing. Another opportunity for long lunches; State cars; expense accounts and graft for 11 people who can’t tell a Thoroughbred from a zebra. That’s a great idea, Joe—IF you want to kill racing in the Empire State, once and for all. Another top-heavy government agency of paper-pushing brothers-in-law. While they’re busy paying back favors and planning their next junket to the Caribbean, New York racing will be pushed under the bus. But who cares, as long as George Pataki’s friends finally get cushy jobs.
But, oh, there’s a THIRD corner in this dysfunctional boxing ring: In THIS corner, we have NYRA.
NYRA has threatened that, if it's not awarded the franchise--racing will not be allowed on their tracks after December 31st. This will, of course, shut down racing in New York state, period. And any amount of time during which the New York tracks sit, dark, will throw the sport in that state's racing (calendar, stakes, purses, potential) into utter, irretrievable disrepair.
But you know, I almost don't cite NYRA for their response to the mess. They--and the other potential franchisees--must feel like the unnamed baby in the famous King Solomon story. Torn by two women, both of whom claimed to be Mom, the baby must have been screamin’ its head off. Being drawn and quartered is not fun.
(I find it interesting to note that horses are necessary to conduct a drawing-and-quartering. Without the four horses, no quartering. Without the horses—no New York racing.)
I know that MY nerves would be shot, were I NYRA or the other franchisees. So I really don't cite NYRA for its wild, reactionary stand: all animals, when cornered, will attack to kill.
Two political powerhouses are holding the majority of the cards in this card game—and, ironically, it’s not THEIR game to control. They’ve artfully wrested control of the game from the rightful owners, the horsewomen (and –men) of New York State.
This has become a triangular card game, in which each player is holding at least one Ace. The question is, Who's holding that last Ace?
Cue the music to "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."
Unfortunately, this is not a card game. Far more is at stake here than a few dollars and some bruised egos.
This scenario--actually, the two political scenarii and the third, NYRA's violent response--have alarmed many. A forum will be held this week in Saratoga to discuss the frightening possibilities.
A forum will give voice to concerns, but won’t solve the problem. These three guys need a Stooge Slap: line 'em up, Three Stooges-style, and slap 'em down the line, 'til the see the light.
Where's Moe when you need him?
So we have before us two schemes for the future of New York racing, and a third concept that WILL happen if one of the two ill-advised schemes doesn’t work out.
Two of these ideas are put forth by two men whose animosity toward each other is renowned. As so often happens when egos grapple with a situation that affects many others—racing in New York is going to suffer, maybe even die. It seems unthinkable, but given the non-choices before us—and the seemingly insatiable hunger of so many politicians to control the sport—it’s very likely, unless we horsepeople step up to the plate and demand full participation in this mess.
Perhaps a class-action suit, on behalf of everyone who races, watches, bets or works in New York racing is the only reality check that’s viable at this late date. That might be the only Stooge slap that the crazed players notice.
The people whose lives and livelihoods will be permanently affected by the decision must storm the fortress, lest we lose the war. They—we--and the horses we own, train, love and protect—are the unwitting, unwilling victims in these scenarii. Unless we legally grab the reins and screech, “Whoa!”
Can’t someone come up with a solution that’s based on actually caring about Thoroughbred racing in New York State—with no hidden agenda, no favors to pay? Never mind about looking for Moe—where’s Clint Eastwood?
Too many cooks (once again), too much stirring of the proverbial pot. Oy, I have a headache just writing about it.
But, hey, why should I care, now that I live in Lexington? I care because, in my heart, I’ll always be a Saratogian. I care, because millions of people around the world acknowledge New York racing as The Best in the United States. I care because I love the horses; I love the people; I love the sport.
And all I’m asking is that everyone take a step back, breathe and put their own cravings aside while making decisions that are for the good of ALL concerned—not the desires of a few politicos, on either side of the aisle. The real needs, of the real workers and athletes in this industry.
Maybe I’m grateful that I now live in Lex, for surely—I’m embarrassed to think of myself as a New Yorker these days. And I know, for certain, that after December 31st—at least we’ll still have racing in Kentucky.