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Crist: Saratoga off to a good start, but uncertainty looms
By Steven Crist
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The 144th summer of racing at Saratoga has begun as if it could be the best one yet. The daily purses, enhanced by revenue from the Aqueduct racino, are the highest for any track in the history of American racing, and that has led to full and competitive fields at every level of the game.
Let’s savor that good news for a few moments, because it may not last.
Saratoga’s racing, while still the premier meet in the sport, had been looking a little frayed in recent years, with stagnant purses and field sizes. The plant needs major overhauls, which will begin – or at least were supposed to begin – after this year’s meet, with major upgrades in place by next summer. The first thing to do, however, was to shore up the racing, and the new purses have made running here irresistible. Maiden races that were worth $52,000 are going for $80,000 this season. Allowance races have purses as high as $95,000.
Two-year-old racing had been on the decline due to a variety of factors, but it had been getting to the point where it was unclear that Saratoga could continue to present three meaningful stakes races in each juvenile division (the Sanford, Saratoga Special, and Hopeful for colts and the Schuylerville, Adirondack, and Spinaway for fillies). Maiden races at the Belmont meet preceding Saratoga weren’t filling, and there weren’t enough stakes-ready prospects for Saratoga. So NYRA instituted a clever new bonus program to get 2-year-olds to come to New York for maiden races before the meet, offering a $100,000 bonus to any juvenile who won a maiden race downstate, then won a graded stakes race in New York.
It worked immediately, with strong fields in both the opening-day Schuylerville and Sunday’s Sanford. Bern Identity, the Sanford winner, came for the race only because of the bonus scheme, which had attracted him to Belmont to win a maiden race and then to Saratoga for the Sanford.
It has been a heartening start, promising the kind of a meeting that both the operators and fans of New York racing have been dreaming of for more than a decade, through a bitter fight to retain the racing franchise, after battles with the now mercifully defunct New York City Offtrack Betting Corporation, and amid countless delays in the opening of the Aqueduct facility. It should be a time of satisfaction and celebration.
Instead, however, it is a meeting enveloped in apprehension and uncertainty because almost as soon as it is over on Labor Day, the state of New York, in its infinite wisdom, is poised to blow it all up.
Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he is taking over the New York Racing Association sometime this fall, when he will appoint the majority of a newly constituted board of directors of the New York Racing Association, with only five of NYRA’s current board members allowed to continue serving. His appointees on the Franchise Oversight Board said they are reconsidering the allotment of racino revenue to racing and have threatened to suspend it. Cuomo’s lieutenants have said that key members of current management will be replaced right after Saratoga and that the new board will conduct a nationwide search for new executives.
Much of the gossip around the track and the town’s watering holes is about who these new board members will be. The names being floated are typically disheartening: political operatives between state appointments, former legislators, deep-pocketed political donors, minor celebrities who have never operated so much as a lemonade stand – most of them people with little knowledge or respect for racing.
Cuomo has yet to articulate a single goal or vision for racing in New York, a single thought about what if anything he thinks needs to be changed, other than that it would all somehow be better off with his cronies in charge. He also has said or done nothing to dispel widespread concern that he’d be perfectly happy if horse racing disappeared in New York, replaced by full-scale casino gambling.
So it seems destined to be a summer where there is a successful race meet with excellent sport, but with an ax hanging over everyone’s head. Every employee is nervous about whether he’ll have a job this fall, the horsemen are worried that the higher purses will disappear, and Saratoga residents and town officials are fearful that charitable and cultural institutions supported by NYRA racing for decades are now in jeopardy. The customers have no idea what to expect. We might as well just enjoy the improved sport, for as long as it lasts.
go ahead Rufus, please explain how I twisted it. I would love to hear it . Maybe I'm wrong but. Eric Adams from Crooklyn was also involved in the fix on he racino. Lets see some facts Rufus. I know Adams is complicit.
Sorry Russell, you've twisted it a bit. Floyd Flake, former politician, and his henchmen were the cronies to benefit from the scam being perpetrated by Paterson et al. Paterson, Silver, Sampson, and Smith were going to collect from the deal afterwards. These are professional scammers at work, moonlighting as politicians because they're not qualified or honest enough to do anything else. Corrupt Cuomo ignores them out of professional courtesy.
Rufus- You are 100% correct in the bid-rigged Aqueduct racino scam. BUT the dirty politicians involved in this deal were almost all minority democratic leaders from Queens. Floyd Flake, a former politician and current leader of the largest church in Queens was also involved. If you think a Governor running on the Democratic ticket would do anything against this group you are nuts. Cuomo turned a blind eye and if he attempted to prosecute them he would be called a racist. NY politics at its worst. One thing you didnt mention is that former NYRA CEO Barry Shwartz started this mess. He selected MGM without a competetive bid process. No one has ever wrote how that went down. They started working on Aqueduct Racino and were thrown out. I would love to know how that deal went down.
Russell, what I am saying is that Hayward didn't want the politicians on his case for sabotaging the NYCOTB. The decrease in takeout would hurt NYCOTB, not the NYRA. This ultimately was the judgement that did Hayward in. More importantly, do you think the Governor really was concerned about this or did he have another purpose in mind?
His one goal and objective is to take back some or most of the slot revenue earmarked for racing. That is the one sure bet.
Corrupt Cuomo doing his "selective perception" routine. He NEVER once lifted a finger or, opened his big mouth to focus on his corrupt cronies as in Paterson, Silver, Sampson, and Smith, who were instrumental in trying to put over the Aqueduct Enterainment bid-rigging scam, which was to benefit ONLY themselves and their friends. The scam ended up costing New York and it's citizens millions of dollars. What did Corrupt Cuomo do or say about the scam as ONLY the Attorney General of New York? Absolutely nothing! Well then, what did Corrupt Cuomo do as ONLY the governor of New York to insure that corrupt individuals like these, involved in the scam, were brought to justice and held accountable for their actions? Corrupt Cuomo NEVER opened his big mouth, or lifted a finger to do a thing. No one EVER got indicted, ever got impeached, ever got dis-barred because of the actions of Corrupt Cuomo, all despite the absolutely scathing report into the investigation of the scam by the independent investigator, Joseph Fitch. Corrupt Cuomo should have indicted himself for aiding & abetting crooks in the comission of their crime but, naturally he wouldn't consider that because he's Corrupt Cuomo and he's above the law. Corrupt Cuomo holds other people to different standards, just not his cronies and people who give him money. Folks, that's what a Corrupt Cuomo brings you. The important thing is to remember he is the source of the problem, and to NEVER, EVER VOTE FOR THIS CROOK OF A POLITICIAN, AGAIN.
Hi Steve, Why are you allowing your business and personal connectrions with the NYRA destrioy your Online and Personal Racing Reputation? Come clean by admitting your improper involvement, if any, with the NYRA. The NYRA has you unfairly twisting in the wind. To safe their shakey reputation, It appears they are setting you up to take the hard fall and become racing's number one scape goat. Do not not allow this to happen. I suggest you immediately write an objective column and fully explain your relationship, both business and personal, with the NYRA. Why in the world do you need them to subsidize your DRF Blog and other race track amenities? You and the DRF are Racing's premier spokes person and supporter. Racing Fans need your vision, wisdom and journalistic brillance to level the playing field between them and the profit oriented State Regulatory Agencies and the greedy and incompetent Race Track Operators. Steve, Shakespear. 600 years ago, summed it up best when describing your current predicament:: "If You Steal all my Money, You have Stolen Nothing. If You Steal My Reputation, You Have Stolen Everything." Steve, I remain one of your most loyal fans! I will continue to support You and the DRF as long as these reckless charges and bogus Blog comments remain false and unproven! It's up to You to make the tough decision and do the right thing! Good Luck and Good Health, Always!
Man, I thought it wasonly Pletcher who brought out the bashers amongst racing fans!!! Gee, Mr Crist, you touched a nerve; being from IL. it just sounds like business as usual- whatever will line the pockets! - then cry 'boomed' about a historic sport that should be 'saved' at the expense of everyone else. Racetracks are continuing to be run as if it was 1950-60's-' the only game in town' and have only to beg for a bail-out from State in their survival plan- as if it's their God-given right to be in business! ---the attitude that got the business where it's at today.So, I'm just going to wait for Pletcher to sweep of a card coming up in near future- and read your daily Saratoga blogs- thanks for making it feel so close!
I love the Breeders Cup but it has harmed NY racing more than any other event I can think of. The reason I loved horse racing is in the span of 5 years my father took me to Belmont and I saw Forego, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Alydar, Spectacular Bid, and John Henry. Pre-Breeders Cup if you wanted to win an Eclipse award you had to win it in the fall at Belmont Park. What has the BC done for NY? Virtually nothing. Complete disgrace. Chad- the writing is on the wall, Cuomo is going to pick some lackey and drive NYRA further into the ground. Aqueduct will be sold off within 5 years and the racing in NY will be from Mid April to Thanksgiving. Cant say I would miss racing at Aquedump.
If you have something, anything in need of repair, wouldn't you try to get the best help possible? Wouldn't you want someone with hands-on experience in the field? So then, instead of accepting a list of appointees why would you fine folks from New York and all who race there not demand that Cuomo put out a search for a professional to come out of the Racing Business itself. There must be a Director of Racing or Racing Secretary out there who would lay his (her) butt on the line to save New York Horseracing and bring it back to the level it once held. It Must be someone who knows the business of Racing and the People who make Racing happen.
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