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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


I asked a trusted source if the rumors were true and he told me that Governor Andrew Cuomo, a.k.a. the President-by-Proxy, now considers horse racing an “essential industry.”

Read here that Cuomo wants and needs New York State’s share of the parimutuel takeout and that Aqueduct could reopen this weekend.

Money is needed everywhere, especially at the current pandemic epicenter where things still can get worse before they get better.

The more people who are able to work in a relatively safe manner, no oxymoron intended, should continue to do so.

The presumption is if that if Aqueduct does reopen, racing will be conducted without fans and probably without owners. Here’s hoping…

Good News and Bad as U S Trotting Association Office Remains Open

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has been aggressive in the handling of the pandemic in his state but declared this past weekend that the USTA was an “agricultural services organization,” deeming their work an essential service.

It was hoped that HRI could have provided a free link to the TrackMaster program-page past performances for Cal-Expo Tuesday and Wednesday. At the moment, the NoCal venue is the last harness track standing.

This weekend, Cal-Expo decided to change its schedule to Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon but the California Horse Racing Board, in its infinite wisdom, denied approval of the dates shift. Per usual, they will race Friday and Saturday nights. HRI will supply the link later this week.

Meanwhile, the bad news could not have been worse. In fact, harness horsemen on the East Coast has been devastated by the virus. Here’s the story, courtesy of

Horseman John Curtin thought he had the flu, he told Keith Sargeant of NJ Advance Media. “I was sweating like hell,” he began. A longtime trainer of standardbreds, Curtin retraced his steps.

He was at Yonkers Raceway on March 2, sitting in the office typically occupied by John Brennan, the first man from New Jersey to die of the coronavirus.

Curtin didn’t interact with Brennan on the trip to the New York racetrack but went out to dinner that night with two men who recently had had contact with Brennan.

“Once I heard John Brennan died, I figured I might have it,” Curtin continued. “I got tested in New Zealand and sure enough I was [diagnosed] positive 24 hours later. It had little effect on me, I was lucky.”

Brennan died March 10 and four members of a family with deep ties to the harness industry died within a six-day period this month.

First, Rita Fusco-Jackson, 55, of Freehold, died March 12, testing positive for coronavirus post-mortem. Three more family members passed, owing to the disease**.

The family was introduced to the virus via the paddock of the Westchester track where it’s virtually impossible to practice social distancing. Brennan, a long time owner and trainer, worked in the Yonkers racing office at the time of his death.

Health officials said the Fusco family deaths were connected to Brennan. It is suspected, reported Sargeant, that many of the Fusco relatives were infected at a family gathering.

There’s a concern among drivers and trainers that at least another half-dozen people in New Jersey’s harness industry have COVID-19 symptoms, interviews by Sargeant with more than a dozen harness people revealed.

“Certain drivers, they don’t know if they’re positive because they don’t test,” said Yannick Gingras, one of harness racing’s top drivers. “There are some who say they’re not feeling well and others who didn’t feel so good for a day or two and then they got back to feeling OK. But were they positive? We don’t know.”

“I got a group text a couple of days ago that said one of our employees tested positive for it,” said Ken Warkentin, track announcer at the Meadowlands and Freehold. “It was a paddock employee, a horseman, so everyone is on high alert.”

Florida Derby This Saturday

Thus far racing is on schedule in South Florida but there’s no word as to whether Saturday will be the last day of racing in Hallandale, in the fashion that Saturday’s Louisiana Derby program was the last day of racing in New Orleans, which is on course to become the next epicenter of horror.

Of course, it might not be Gulfstream’s call and, after all, they are conducting business in a state that only days ago shut down public beaches. The hope is that racing does continue.

If Aqueduct does reopen, the “New York” horses can return home, especially since there will be no stopover in Lexington this year.

**There was an error in the original story. No member of the Fusco family had been named in the FBI investigation into the use of PEDs and record falsification in horse racing. No harm was intended. HRI has corrected the record and apologizes to family and friends.

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24 Responses

  1. To reiterate my position, I have been opposed to the continuation of racing during the crisis solely because of the optics with so many other people being thrown out of work.

    With NY as the new epicenter of the pandemic, I doubt Cuomo would take a step that would attract so much negative attention. You can’t put six horses in a starting gate without 12 people being in close proximity.

    That said, I hope the rest of society and racing returns to as normal as possible soon because as Sen. Kennedy said, “You know what else kills? Poverty!”

  2. Don’t know why I’m concerned; we’ll all be back to normal by Easter, right? Send the signal, stock market loves it, up 2,112.98.

    In Dollars We Trust.

    The jocks at Gulfstream are satisfied with increased safety protocols with respect to sanitation, work station distancing, etc., and I noticed how assistant starters are keeping their distance until absolutely necessary.

    Was watching races for less than an hour, but that’s what I noticed–though there are self-quarantine issues with jocks returning to GP from New Orleans.

    The story re the NYRA speculation was that a member of the television department was told to report to work by the weekend. Unless they are filming a documentary on why 70-year-olds should sacrifice their lives to ensure the economic health of the country.

    There might be racing planned–NYRA might want it but Cuomo could change his mind–today was a terrible day on the NY health front.

    We were on the NTRA call for the Florida Derby today. For the second straight week, call to 888 number didn’t go through–17 minutes last week, 10 minutes today. Jack Knowlton’s call was dropped, my line was dropped twice during the conference.

    Whatever is in the air, it’s no damn good, but it’s OK, on Easter Sunday the American Economy will rise from the dead.

    I’ll write some racing tomorrow; going to see if I can find an old Jerry Lewis movie on Netflix…

  3. “First, Rita Fusco-Jackson, 55, of Freehold, died March 12, testing positive for coronavirus post-mortem. Three more family members passed, including one named in the FBI investigation into the use of illegal drugs in horse racing”

    Hi John….who was mentioned in the recent FBI investigations?

    1. Indeed, Moira, there were NO Fuscos on the FBI list. I read it in an early report and that source was obviously in error. I had the names of indicted individuals confirmed by the U S Trotting Association this morning. We will correct original piece immediately and note it for the record.

      Meanwhile, HRI apologizes to the Fusco family and their friends at this time of unspeakable grief. Thank you for the heads-up that allowed us to correct the record.

      1. Thank you John…I have not read all through all the indictments [what a sad sentence] so I was not sure. Thanks for making the correction.

  4. I agree with TJ’s premise that the optics with racing getting special treatment, while other businesses sacrifice, would not be good for the country as a whole.

    If racing can actually continue “safely” without live attendance, then perhaps some transparent form of financial support for fighting the virus should be part of the package. For example, ADW customers might pay a daily “admissions” fee with their first wager for each date, the tracks could pay a similar fee for the first wager from an individual account each day, and the top three finishing owners, trainers, and jockeys could pay a scaling fee for each race.

    Major League Football with it’s limited number of games could be played on a pay-for-view basis with reasonable season ticket prices. IMO basketball and baseball seem too reliant on consistent performances of a few superstars and the crowd/seating experience to do as well as football without live attendance. I have no experience on which to base an opinion on hockey, golf, or soccer.

    What I do believe is that the blessing for retired folks represented by entertainment being broadcast into the home would be a sanity saver and morale booster for confined citizens. Government should see to it that our hobbies and interests be allowed to come to our rescue now.

  5. I,

    Don’t know what profits there are to be had but TSG promised any to the state of California from racing proceeds but with track closed don’t see how that’s possible without paying fans–unless a portion from the money bet on California racing via Xpressbet is part of any proposed package.

    However, news developing so fast; my opinion would change with a nationwide shelter-in-place order but with or without racing, horses need to to fed and attended to… Don’t know how that happens with majority of bill payers not among racing’s elite…

  6. If the optics are bad know, wait until people find out that more than a million and a half dollars will be doled out in stakes races on Saturday. Most of this will be won by very wealthy people. Guys with cheap claiming horses, who have been filling the daily cards, don’t win the Florida Derby.

    One antidote is every owner, who has a horse on the stakes laden card, pledging a significant portion of purses won–20 percent wouldn’t be too high–to the employees at Gulfstream–mutual clerks, program sellers, concession workers, bartenders, cooks, et al–who have lost their paychecks since the no-spectator rule went into effect.

    It won’t hurt the people JP likes to call “the one-percenters” but it could be a lifeline for those wondering how they are going to pay their mortgage or rent and put food on the table.

  7. TJ, great idea!

    Would love it if the 1% in racing steps up like member of other sports have. Who will be racing’s answer’s to Kevin Love?

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