Terry Finley always has been a man of vision and ambition. I learned that while living in Saratoga and seeing him guest with Tom Amello and Nick Kling one Sunday morning on Capital OTB network’s Track Facts program.
I had heard about the relatively new concept of horse owner partnerships but didn’t know much about it. After watching the interview I did. It seemed like it would be racing’s future. In large measure at the highest levels of the sport, it has turned out that way.
Racing partnerships are nothing new but, on balance, the codifying of it is. It has become so popular that even 1-percenters play the partnership game now, especially when seven-figure yearlings and private purchases are involved.
This week, Finley was interviewed by Bloodhorse magazine and that session underscored what Finley is about. The West Point graduate is about loyalty and, by extension, command.
As the piece points out, New York racing is far from immune when it comes to the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The New York Racing Association and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association combined to petition Governor Andrew Cuomo to resume spectatorless racing on May 22.
It was thought to have a chance but now, with the shelter-in-place mandate extended into June, a May 22nd resumption appears less likely. Meanwhile, racing has been conducted successfully without fans in Arkansas and Florida throughout 2020.
Six more tracks, some still needing approval, have stated plans to resume fanless racing by the end of this month. Recently, Remington Park, Fonner Park, and Will Rogers Downs has joined Florida in presenting live racing.
On Thursday, a conference call was held between key NYRA executives and approximately 100 members of the NYTHA. It was cordial and somewhat productive, but the questions that brought the parties together largely remained unanswered.
That’s because the next step is not up to them; the green light must come from Albany.
Whenever the approval comes, Finley and other supporters of New York racing are concerned that Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga no longer will have the overall quality of racing stock that once it took for granted, raising questions about its future.
Will New York be able to maintain its stature as the Thoroughbred industry’s leader if the competition from Kentucky proves too strong? Will Churchill Downs and Keeneland, and satellites such as Ellis Park, a spanking new Turfway Park and the extremely popular short boutique meet, Kentucky Downs, attract “New York quality” horses year-round?
Will Kentucky’s new scheduling, augmented by non-racing gaming revenue, and buoyed by horsemen seeking to escape the politics and uncertainty of California racing, become a better gambling product for the 92-cents-on-the-dollar now bet offtrack?
“As New York racing goes, so goes the vast majority of American racing,” Finley told the Bloodhorse. “New York has been the center of racing for a long time. It faces a fairly good threat right now, and we have to rally around New York.”
In addition to his role as President and CEO of the West Point Thoroughbreds partnership group, and a member of The Jockey Club, he also is a board member of New York’s horsemen’s organization. An election will be held for NYTHA chairman by year’s end.
Finley made a failed bid for the position in the past and may be interested in making another run: “Now is not the time for our community to break down in factions,” Finley continued. “We need to stay together,’’ are words of a man exhibiting leadership qualities.
His anti-raceday medication posture and views on independent oversight likely will be obstacles to overcome, but his position could not be timelier.
“You have to rely on your leaders,” Finley said. “There’s no doubt we have some serious challenges, but the big thing is that we get horses back to New York and put on a good product. I urge people to think about that and think about the greater good.”
Many of the New York people he’s talking about are being held hostage in Florida, not knowing which way to go. Most, if not all, would like to get back home to New York. But the only way to pay for their mounting bills is with purse money. Churchill Downs opens Friday. Belmont Park needs a date set in stone, whenever that might be.
Todd Pletcher, who saddled three Gulfstream winners Saturday, is sending horses to Kentucky and New York; the younger stock north, elders to the Midwest. But not every trainer, even extraordinarily successful ones, has the luxury of that kind of diversity.
New York, meanwhile, has the only horsemen’s organization that operates without an extended contract as is done in other jurisdictions. They need to go to Albany with hat in hand every year. Resultingly, they have little leverage when it comes to controlling their destiny. The best they can do is emulate existing guidelines from other regions.
In their 21-page proposal to the State Gaming Commission, the horsemen said they willing to put in place any safety measures: observing social distancing when possible, taking temperatures, wearing masks at all times, gloves, and possibly separate temporary housing for track and backstretch workers–whatever it takes.
Riders will be allowed to ship into New York for graded stakes mounts only, allowed to ride only after their temperatures are taken. Safe spaces will be constructed in the jockey’s quarters. The local colony will have 30 riders. Trainers would have the pick of only that litter, according to one HRI source.
Racing fan or not, Gov. Cuomo has a firm grasp on the impact New York racing has on both the upstate and downstate economies, including its ancillary effects on the agricultural and tourist industries. God knows Cuomo’s plate is full, but New York racing is recognized worldwide. The sport helps New York to be the Empire State it is.