08/27/2012 11:27AM

Bergman: Faraldo's happy words not backed by proof

SOA President Joe Faraldo has a positive view of VLT impact at NY tracks.

You would think after reading Standardbred Owners of New York’s president Joe Faraldo’s comments in the Albany Times-Union earlier this week that his recipe for success in harness racing in the state was, “Add money and mix.”

It’s hard to blame Mr. Faraldo for speaking up for the horsemen after the state comptroller went on the offensive a week earlier. Yet given the forum to espouse his feelings about New York racing, he made the cardinal sin. He failed to provide any numbers to support his assertions.

Take a look at this excerpt from Faraldo’s piece:

“Better purses lead to an influx of better quality horses and horsemen from other parts of the country, which leads to better racing, which leads to more interest in New York racing, which then leads to more investment in New York farms, which leads to more jobs — and on through the economic cycle.”

Ideally one would like to believe those things actually happened. To the contrary while better purses have led to an influx of horses and horsemen from other parts of the country, it’s hard to say that it has led to more interest, more investment or more jobs. In order for there to be an increase in jobs, there first would have had to be less racing prior to the escalation of purses.

The facts are that higher purses have benefitted many, but employment and breeders are not among those who have grown or achieved any better economic outcomes.

Had Mr. Faraldo bothered to check figures readily available from New York’s Harness Horse Breeders, he would have found that all is not well within its ranks. While the number of mares bred spiked in 2002 (the first year post legislation) to 1988 from 1293 mares bred in 2001, those numbers have been in steady decline since. In 2010 just 1585 mares were bred in the state.

The number of stallions registered in New York reached 125 in 2004, but by 2010 those numbers had dwindled to just 69.

Despite the “renaissance” Mr. Faraldo has claimed has occurred in much of his written work, the New York Sire Stakes has not come close to attracting the number of stallions or foals it did during its peak in the 1980s.

As far as employment is concerned it’s unlikely that there have been any increases in employment from this legislation. Perhaps Mr. Faraldo and President Obama share the viewpoint that jobs not lost are equal to jobs created. One needs look no further than to the number of races and number of horses racing pre-slots and post slots. It would be incorrect to say that higher purses have led horses to a richer, more expensive diet. It would be wrong to speculate that flushed with added income from their horses, that owners would hire extra caretakers to take care of an individual horse. It’s not likely that higher purses led to one-horse trailers with classy horses not wishing to share the ride with others.

While Mr. Faraldo has found what he believes to be legitimate excuses for the sport’s lack of significant attendance and handle growth, he should have been wise enough to understand why New York’s breeding program has gone from a brief euphoria when legislation was first passed, to a lingering down cycle.

There is simply too much money being wasted on overnight purses and not enough distributed annually to those investing in yearlings.

The Meadowlands two-year-old early closing programs in the early 80’s caused a meteoric rise in breeding activity. With million dollar purses available to first year horses there was expansion in breeding activity.

The initial move by breeders to New York post-2001 seemed to be driven by similar expectations that purses for two-year-olds would rise significantly.

While smaller tracks like Vernon and Tioga have used a portion of their purse fund to fuel non-statebred two-year-old races, Yonkers, which offers over $50 million annually in purses, lacked any two-year-old open stakes until this year. Over the last six years since slots began at Yonkers there has been roughly $300 million in the purse fund. Just $75,000 of that amount was added to one race for juvenile pacers.

A majority of the Yonkers stakes money goes to aged performers.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, breeders and horsemen have worked in concert to draw up a program that is beneficial to both. The Quaker State offers significant Grand Circuit races for young horses while spreading breeders’ awards to those who breed within the state. That synergy draws horsemen to Pennsylvania not only for racing, but keeps plenty of money within the state as horsemen take up permanent residence and buy, race and train year round.

Unlike Pennsylvania it’s safe to say that much of New York’s high purses are being won by out-of-state trainers. Yet what is more disturbing when one looks at growth is the imbalance in purse distribution when it comes to overnights versus stakes racing.

The harsh reality is that too much of the purse money in New York was withdrawn and not invested in its future. The comptroller may not understand what drives racing when he suggests slots have not been beneficial. It’s hard to believe that those running horsemen’s organizations didn’t have the wisdom to see this coming. They have rolled out the “green space” argument with regularity as if gains in handle and attendance weren’t really that important. They have overstated the “jobs” numbers as if they were actually running for public office.

With the benefit of hindsight had the millions each year that were rolled out of stakes races and into overnights been devoted to races for those buying yearlings, there’s an excellent chance the numbers in New York would be on the rise. There’s also a great possibility that more people would have bought into breeding operations within the state.

There was so much enthusiasm over expected $1 million races within the state when the slot legislation first passed in 2001. Initially there was plenty of breeding activity spurred on by growth potential.

Sadly, despite Mr. Faraldo’s best effort to put on a happy face in Albany, the results haven’t been nearly as positive as presented.

Instead of denying that there is a problem, we suggest Mr. Faraldo and his horsemen lead in the solution.