04/02/2015 1:21PM

Crist: Spring at NYRA with little in bloom


It’s time to start paying attention to New York racing again. Spring has sprung, the main track at Aqueduct is open, and Saturday’s $1 million Wood Memorial will be the first Grade 1 race in New York since Private Zone won the Cigar Mile more than four months ago. Before you know it, the racing will move to Belmont and then Saratoga.

It’s all cause for hope and happiness, but if you want to stay hopeful and happy, you might not want to pay too much attention to what has been going on with the entity presenting the racing, the New York Racing Association.

This was supposed to be the last Wood Memorial run under the control of New York state, whose governor, Andrew Cuomo, seized control of NYRA more than two years ago. The stated purpose of the takeover was to reform the organization, agree on a long-term plan, and then re-privatize it by October 2015.

That’s not going to happen. NYRA has not had a working chairman since David Skorton left to run the Smithsonian early this year. NYRA has not even held a board meeting since December, and no plans of any kind have been announced. The current draft of the state budget has Cuomo extending its control of NYRA for at least another year.

At least NYRA apparently has a new chairman as of this week: Anthony Bonomo, an insurance executive and staunch Cuomo supporter and fundraiser who was appointed to the board by the governor in 2012. One has to say “apparently” because there has been no official announcement, much less a statement from the new chairman or a press conference at which he might answer questions in public.

Bonomo’s selection was confirmed by a NYRA spokesman in a text message to DRF’s David Grening, which read in part that “Governor Cuomo has appointed Anthony Bonomo to serve as the Chairman.” That’s not quite the way it’s supposed to work – the governor technically makes recommendations, not unilateral appointments – but the meek NYRA board has shown no signs of doing anything but rubber-stamping the governor’s decisions.

At least Bonomo is a horse owner, racing under the nom de course of Brooklyn Boyz Stable, and is genuinely committed to improving equine safety and welfare. Unfortunately, the Cuomo administration and thus NYRA have chosen to make those issues political talking points in an attempt to spin a narrative of a governor riding in on a white steed, chasing the bad guys out of town, and making the world safe for horses.

The politicization of the safety issue also has led to the real possibility, preposterous as it might seem, that NYRA will spend $10 million to replace Aqueduct’s winterized inner dirt track with a synthetic racing surface. This would wreck what is left of winter racing in New York, prompting an exodus of New York stables to dirt tracks from Philadelphia to Miami next winter. It also would make NYRA a laughingstock: Just when every other major track that installed synthetics has conceded that they were a mistake and ripped them out – including Del Mar, Keeneland, and Meydan in the last year alone – NYRA would be embracing a failed experiment that neither its horsemen nor its fans want.

It’s a pleasure to have good racing back in town, and Saturday’s card is a good one, with an all-stakes pick four of the Grade 2 Gazelle, Grade 3 Bay Shore, Grade 1 Wood, and Grade 1 Carter. You’ll enjoy it more if you don’t think too much about the future.

Chrome victim of owners’ squabble

Perry Martin, the co-owner of California Chrome, felt obliged to issue a statement Thursday about the highly questionable decision to send the 4-year-old to a new trainer and point for a grass race at Royal Ascot instead of returning to the U.S. After saying he is trying to boost the humbly bred colt’s value as a stallion, Martin concluded by blaming trainer Art Sherman and co-owner Steve Coburn for the colt’s second-place finish in the Dubai World Cup last Saturday:

“Both Art and Steve wanted to prep in the San Antonio against Shared Belief,” Martin said. “Their argument was that the matchup was good for racing. I did not want to disappoint them, so abstained. This was an emotional decision, and it was wrong. This time, we will do what gives Chrome the best chance to win. This time, I’ve got Chrome’s back.”

“This time” Martin will protect California Chrome from the terrible decisions that led to a perfectly good performance running second (and earning $2 million) in Dubai? To suggest that Sherman did not have his colt’s back is as shabby as the trainer’s being pushed aside after nearly two years of exemplary handling.