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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


What is it that they say on Wall Street, buy the rumor and sell the news?

Well, here it is: The New York Racing Association, in league with the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, has petitioned the New York State Gaming Commission to start the 2020 Belmont spring/summer meet on May 22.

NYRA sent a letter to the NYSGC requesting the reopening and the date, a Friday, would make sense. That day is exactly one week after the state-shutdown extension concludes on May 15 and the start of the Memorial Day weekend.

The horsemen’s group has, or will shortly, send a letter to the Gaming Commission in support of the NYRA request.

HRI has confirmed from a confidential backstretch source that 32 workers have contracted the virus, and not all positives were workers housed in dormitories on the Belmont backstretch.

Thankfully, less than a handful needed to be hospitalized.

The Belmont fatality attributed to COVID-19 several weeks ago was a 63-year-old backstretch worker with pre-existing conditions.

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23 Responses

  1. JP–

    Thanks for the wonderful investigative reporting!
    It will be interesting to see how this plays out……fingers crossed!

    Chuck from Saratoga

  2. The question that keeps resonating in my brain is how could Florida keep racing at the pace they do, both Gulfstream and Tampa and New York can’t? This is not to mention Santa Anita who would also be racing if not for the socialist government restricting them from doing so.
    I think the appointment of O’Rourke as the head of NYRA is proving to be a terrible mistake for NY racing. He seems to me to either be lazy or incompetent or perhaps a combination of the two. We have certainly learned, by now, as a society, alot about Covid and how to best protect ourselves. This is not going to change a month from now or two months from now or longer. The fear will be there until there is either a vaccine or totally effective treatment. The world cannot stop moving. Why hasn’t O’Rourke appealed to the NYRB until now to resume racing? Again I ask, if Florida can do it with all the restrictions why can’t NY? I am suspicious that perhaps it requires too much of an effort for NYRA to do so.

    1. In 2 months from now, most people under 60, will say ‘bleep it’, I’m going to live my life, virus be damned. They are actually doing it now, all over the country. In normal times we live our lives on a ‘quid pro quo’ each and every day. The younger crowd will ‘risk’ a case of the flu/virus to return to somewhat normalcy very very soon, especially if there is even a reasonable cure out there that the government puts forth. Americans are basically hedonists and this ‘lockdown’ so far is a bit of a novelty. That will end shortly!

      And youre right, if Gulfstream and Tampa can do it, so can NY. Whether it’s O’rourke or the state czars, they need to think a bit out of the present ‘box’ and get things going again.

      1. Sonny you’re right, we are hedonists which has, intrinsic in its definition, we don’t care about anyone but ourselves. We have one of those at the top of America’s food chain at the moment.

        Jockeys are often criticized for moving too soon but generally all that kills are parimutuel tickets. This is, without hyperbole, a matter of life and death. Take the citizenry out of the equation for a moment.

        How in good conscience do we consequentially risk the lives of doctor, nurses, police and fire fighters, just for openers. The young hedonists enjoyed their spring break.

        Consequently, Broward and Palm Beach counties became Covid hot spots, not to mention the parts of the country to which they returned. People have the right to endanger their own lives if they wish, not the lives of others.

        I fully realize this whole life thing is random, but need we roll the dice and hasten our demise prematurely? To repeat what I posted yesterday culled from Twitter:

        Anne Frank spent two years in an attic. We have Netflix, marijuana and pizza delivery. Think we can sacrifice 6-8 weeks of our lives–with govt. helping the masses and mom and pop businesses, not Fortune 500 companies.

        Drumpf did tell the truth, if only once in his life: The game is rigged…

    2. Valid points and valid questions. I will say what people do forget is that this is not your father’s NYRA, its under state aegis.

      And I can see where the Gaming Commission, many if not all appointed by the Governor, will be taking the Governor’s temperature.

      I hope they will be using oral thermometers.

  3. I read Bill Finley’s column for TDN….. and you’re right, a million questions, a million scenarios (and probably a million per day in lost revenue to Saratoga Springs). Being subjectively hopeful for a normal ‘meet’ this Summer, I can today (emphasis on today) sympathize with what NYRA’s possible decision making process might be. But in 2 months, the situation could change dramatically.
    In my mind, NYRA has a month or 6 weeks to make the real decision vis a vis a meet at Saratoga. It is iconic, it will produce huge handle, fans or no fans, and it affords a mental hiatus for everyone attached to the game we love so much.

    While racing ‘the Saratoga meet’ at Belmont reduces (some) exposure and expense to NYRA and their downstate employees, what does it do to the ancillary interests of everything and everybody attached to possibly, the most revered horse racing meet in the country? If NYRA forgoes a summer meet in Saratoga, in my opinion it will impart almost irreparable damage to racing in NY (and maybe the country). Fans, owners, trainers, breeders will start to slowly slip away and find new outlets for their attention and their money.

    And keep in mind, our governor is no big fan of our sport. So, maybe it’s time for NYRA to bite the proverbial bullet and forge ahead with deciding to have the Saratoga meet before a possible/probable pushback by state officials.

    My 2 cents

    1. Thanks Tom, will get into this topic a little more in depth, working on several items at the moment.

      But what could be more important than Saratoga racing? Not many things I’d say, and in our world? Puh-leeze!

      1. Ms. Perry, Sad to say that while Belmont Spring has not been officially given the green light by the state, Saratoga is a moot point, with or without fans, and Saratoga without fans is, well…

  4. Some people responding on here seem to have little regard to people’s lives being put at risk so that they can make a bet.


    1. That comment deserves a Presidential quote: “There you go again.”

      I doubt the goal of any commenter above is just to make a bet, but rather to keep racing alive and the communities dependent upon Saratoga economically viable. Just think of boarded-up Erie Boulevard in Schenectady after General Electric closed.

      I wonder if the residents of Saratoga would agree to the meet being conducted prior to attaining adequate levels of testing, tracking, etc..

  5. Andrew Cuomo is probably experiencing, even if not enjoying, his highest approval ratings; and for seemingly good reasons. This does not seem to be not the time for anyone much less NYRA to pick a fight with him. The announcement does not appear to represent opposition. If I were still a New Yorker, I’d prefer his judgement to that of either the POTUS or the Governor of California.

    I suspect backlash from insensitivity to humans could eclipse that alleged against horses. My guess is that the age of racing participants on both sides of the racetrack put them at higher risk than average across industries (though perhaps less in a closely controlled environment).

    The troops in this war are the first responders who are risking their health, aspirations, and lives to get us through this. Why would anyone want to waste their service and sacrifice against a deadly enemy if one were NOT facing the threat of imminent personal, physical danger?

    1. Andrew Cuomo is having his ’15 minutes of fame’. I will leave the judgment of his performance on the national stage to others. As far as racing in NY is concerned, he flat out controls NYRA with his handpicked appointees to it’s board. He has the power to promote and preserve horse racing in our state and should by all reasonable judgment, absolutely try to jump start it. I will be more than happy to see him aggressively do it, but I’m afraid his playing to a broader audience keeps his focus elsewhere.

      1. Sonny, I dare say his reach will extend beyond 15 minutes. That notwithstanding, I agree completely with your premise, which leads to the thing I don’t understand about politics, meaning life in general.

        Why don’t people in authority act to the benefit of all, their personal prejudices aside? Opening Belmont one week after current shelter-in-place restriction is lifted–if that stays on schedule, health concerns coming first–means more money for the state which is $15 billion in the hole. It doesn’t make sense not to.

        I’m sure no one will be surprised that my opinion is that relief from the much deeper economic crisis to come would be hastened after getting control of the health ramifications from COVID-19.

        All will pay the price for short-sighted people seeking a hastened return to “normal.” Normal is life as we knew it pre-Covid. “New normal” will be finding its way for a long time to come.

  6. The foregoing conversation is reasonable, in my view, relative to racing as a spectator sport. I and people close to me have been in attendance at the Spa for almost 50 years, despite departing NY for southern states in 1990, due to corporate re-lo.

    Think we all want to get to the Spa this year, more than ever? For me, it takes travel plans, expensive housing, and adjusting to the senseless shortening of the racing week there. If it doesn’t happen, we’ll get over it.

    What really turns me off are the arrogant potshots by the reporter at The Donald. Needless to the discussion, and irritating to those of us who think we understand him and unflinchingly support him. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment.


      I wish the liberal media would just stick to their convoluted coverage of the DNC and stay away from sports in general, let alone NYRA racing.
      50+ years of visiting the Spa beginning from the hoods of the Bronx to the current NY burbs. Let’s get back to living life again and without the politics. But since we’re here, MAGA! And let’s keep it that way.

  7. I love America, where anyone is free to defend the indefensible.

  8. “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat” – Will Rogers.
    While that statement was made some 85 years ago, it’s still true today. Indefensible? Spare me.

  9. John,
    In my lifetime a lot of my spare time has been relegated to horse racing. I still play a few times a week, even playing tracks that I am not nearly enough familiar with to make a decent bet. I have always bet NYRA as my main track, but if keeping it shut saves some lives, then by all means keep it shut. In all the articles I’ve seen Florida has reported no cases at the track, while Belmont has had about 35 positives.

  10. Our august governor will never lift a finger to help our sport and the 40,000 jobs that are concomitant to it’s survival. His family’s entrenched disdain for horse racing is inarguable and he has demonstrated it (unceremoniously) in his tenure as governor. Every industry is fraught with risk and the so-called resumption of our economy is a broad landscape of ideas, necessities and intuition. Can anyone name a company in NY that has 40,000 employees? (not government of course) Would anyone NOT want to see that organization get back to reasonable normalcy? Therefore the risks and possible downside, while scary, should be overlooked in the mirror of ‘the big picture’. It’s NOT about gambling. It’s about an industry and the magnificent animals that provide us the pleasure, the state the unflinching revenue and the people that depend on the work to maintain it.

  11. You commentators who want Saratoga to open this summer, don’t forget to bring your children, parents, grandparents, and friends to watch ‘the magnificent animals (which breeders hope will increase their income via stud fees), as it is not about gambling (b.s) but to ‘provide us the pleasure …….’

  12. And I’ll bet you think that liquor stores are essential businesses? Spare me the hyperbolic bullshit. Virtually each American ‘pastime’ is hedonistic and capitalistic at it’s core. Think about it. Have you ever bred a horse, owned a horse, foaled a horse, raised one? They ARE magnificent and to deride that term is hostile and dismissingly juvenile. You have no knowledge of the intense relationships we have with these animals, nor whats in ones heart.

  13. TM,
    It’s refreshing to encounter someone as passionate about being close to horses as I am about watching them race from afar. I haven’t been within 6 feet of a Thoroughbred since I watched the original Indulto being saddled under the trees at Saratoga in 1965. I probably got as close as I did because most of the attention was focused on Buckpasser.

    Indeed what is in one’s heart is unknowable. Why edge-taking permeates the body of racing participants of all stripes could well be a function of our society. Concern for the welfare of animals is no virtue if it has a negative impact on humans. Saving the game for future generations is no vice provided there are likely to be some with disposable income.

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