02/12/2018 4:53PM

Bergman: Thoughts on a new era of racing at Yonkers Raceway


It seems wherever you look these days in the press or social media, people with strong opinions not only want you to take sides but actually demand it. Loyalty is not something just the President of the United States is asking for. When it comes to news gathering and disseminating, loyalty is what it’s all about and as our nation accepts these truths to be self evident, we are left either to play the game or stay on the sidelines and watch.

Racing is hardly different in this case, as those social “activists” tend to point out all of our inefficiencies on a day-to-day basis.

If you want to know what happens, just write the story yourself or have the viewpoint of your organization trumpet the cause of your own celebrities.

It doesn’t take more than a minute to brag about great handle numbers without context. The recent “Memo” out of Washington was no different in substance to the tales of an incredible turnaround in handle at Yonkers in January. Neither initiative managed to cite all the reasons or for that matter state some of the more obvious details left out of documents. In the case of Yonkers’ meteoric rise in handle figures, the cancellation of competing tracks just may have had something to do with it.

The news of a new presiding judge at Yonkers still has the horsemen abuzz, but true details of this story have not come forth and those that I have spoken to appear to understand some of the players who wish nothing ever comes out.

In the past I’ve listened to trainer gripes about others getting a better deal or the so-called un-level playing field. I still hear those speculating about a trainer’s success and the sources thereof.

While the complaints haven’t changed very much, one has to wonder whether those trainers expecting the media to uncover misbehavior are really serious in their position or just laying in the weeds hoping to profit should one of the big guys get caught.

While I’m puzzled at the adulation heaped upon trainers who come from nowhere and reach the top in short order, I’m equally perplexed at those who don’t recognize their rights to vote and elect leaders that will in fact stick up for the majority and not just placate those looking for a voice.

If there is truly discontent in the trainer ranks and the belief that the ends always justify the means, then why aren’t more horsemen speaking out against wrongdoing? Whether it’s in the race office, judges stand or on the racetrack, this is 2018 and there is so little money spent on investigative journalism. Horsemen operate in plain sight of nearly all of the parties that they criticize. Is it possible to continually speculate to the press certain activities when the trainers themselves are in the closest proximity?

It’s hard to be a cheerleader and a critic at the same time and perhaps that’s the problem with finger pointing.  Many are willing to “like” a particular post with their names attached while others criticize anonymously.

Are Horsemen’s groups there to protect all horsemen or just some?

To me the answer should be clear and if horsemen don’t like what they are seeing on the track or off the track, their duty is to make their voice heard in whom they put in office to lead.

The recently removed judge at Yonkers was there for a long time without being replaced. No matter what he did or didn’t do, we can all agree there is a certain comfort level people in power tend to get when they are certain that nothing or no one can change their position. In the case of a presiding judge with little oversight, there is potential to abuse authority. It’s puzzling as to why the judge was allowed to remain for so long without some form of simple rotation. Speculation aside, there was a time in New York where presiding judges were changed nearly every three months or when a race meeting ended. It may not have been perfect for judges to travel to other tracks to relocate, but it did give the drivers and trainers a different set of eyes to witness the races and perhaps call infractions that other judges wouldn’t.

Essentially what happened with the judge at Yonkers may be similar to what happened to the racing at Yonkers. Everyone on and off the racetrack was all too comfortable with each other and the evidence was on full view for the public to see. There was very little movement. Drivers routinely gave tucks to other drivers. Horses went in straight alignment for the first five-eighths of a mile.

Now that the judges have changed and the passing lane has been removed, it was perhaps wishful thinking that racing would be dramatically different at Yonkers. Of course the instant reviews were sensational and perhaps the euphoria was richly deserved, as the first two weeks of action saw drivers on the move early with incredible regularity.

I would even suggest that last Thursday’s Foiled Again-in-search-of-win-number-100 race was dramatically different than races we’ve tended to expect over the last dozen or so years. Despite being the obvious fan favorite, Foiled Again was not afforded any luxury in reaching the front. Making matters worse, he received a true head-to-head challenge from the halfway mark on and that proved just enough to soften him up and keep him from the winner’s circle.

However, in substance, after witnessing seven wire-to-wire wins in 11 races this past Saturday, reality appears to have set back in. Some of the snoozers can be expected since odds-on horses had an inside track against fields that didn’t measure up. What was of concern to me is the number of extremely slow second quarters. If the action from the back of the pack doesn’t pick up before the half, it’s going to be extremely difficult to bring those wire-to-wire numbers to a level that gives all players an opportunity to collect.

If this is the beginning of a new era, perhaps we’ve just hit a bump in the road.