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.

Ken Wiener More than 1 year ago
Mr. Crist refuses to accept, or even acknowledge, the clear evidence that synthetic tracks result in fewer horse fatalities than dirt tracks. Mr. Crist's preference for wagering on dirt races obviously is of paramount importance and takes precedence.
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Synthetic tracks have proved to cause casualties, as well, and the fact that so few horses now race on it may also contribute to increased breakdowns. The "rubber" and other synthetic materials used often do not remain consistent in extremely cold weather. Many factors cause breakdowns....a lot has to do with changes in track construction in recent times, draining to the center. That and one-way racing causes horses to have unbalanced action which can increase musculoskeletal injuries. Have to be careful how we frame this argument, because there are more than one study that points to changes in conditioning, track construction, America's shorter races (more sprints). 50 years ago we didn't have the numbers of breakdowns we do now, and horses ran longer and more often., on dirt Drugs have contributed to the injury numbers. It never is "just one thing".
Kevin Smith More than 1 year ago
MR CRIST,you and DRF have lost control of your website, you have some mentally disturbed people commenting here. one person calling themselves martymar posted to your column wishing for you to have another heart attack, what a disgusting animal.another person called mike replies to comments with nasty vile comments if you say anything negative about california chrome.maybe it is time for a change at DRF
James Eccles More than 1 year ago
This is New York State, where on Easter like Palm Sunday the week before, horse racing doesn't exist while for most of the rest of the country life goes on as normal. NYS residents are welcome to go to Racinos or buy lottery tickets though, because they are apparently more in the spirit of the holidays.
Larry Kaufman More than 1 year ago
speak of the racino wild fight in that sewer of a casino last night
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
What Mr. Crist needs to realize is that Del Mar and Keeneland specifically gave up synthetics so they can host the Breeders' Cup. I would not be surprised to see a return to synthetics at Keeneland after the BC, possibly as early as Fall 2016 as field size has shrunk. As for NYRA installing synthetics, I would look at doing that on the MAIN track at Aqueduct. Yes, it would mean the Wood Memorial would be on synthetics, but it might not be a bad thing if that happened. It also would allow NYRA to convert the inner tack back to the turf course it used to be
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Why would Aqueduct need a second turf course? Now if they could have a synth track and still run a few on dirt, I bet that would keep alot of the turf horses here and still accomodate dirt horses.
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
The second turf course at Aqueduct would be for trainers looking to run on turf more. We see how many grass races are at Belmont and that can continue until turf racing ends for the year.
Larry Kaufman More than 1 year ago
polycrap was a failure the horseman and most bettors don't want it get over it already
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
Um, if Polytrack is such a faile, why is Keeneland's handle DOWN SHARPLY since going back to dirt?
billybudd16 More than 1 year ago
2 days, one with 4 cancelled races and the second hosting the Blue Grass a week earlier than usual. Same type of data that explains global warming. YCBS!
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
I was talking about LAST year, when field size was down as much as TWO HORSES per race. Some of that could be contributed to crappy weather, but even with that, field size was down 1.4 horses per race, and that is a lot even for a 17-day meet like Keeneland's fall meet. This year should be a good indication of where we stand.
Larry Kaufman More than 1 year ago
you come up with some of the dumbest ideas, i guess that would qualify you to run NYRA
billybudd16 More than 1 year ago
That;s where you'd be wrong. Synthetics are dead.
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
I guess Martin wanted to prep in Round II of the Maktoum challenge. That's how I interpret it anyway.
Peter Murphy More than 1 year ago
Mr. Crist continues to use his column as a soap-box against synthetic tracks. he keeps talking about Del mar and keeneland, but does not mention Woodbine and Turfway Park where it is working out fine. Crist has maintained a studied indifference to the horse safety issues when these issues surfaced three or four years ago at the Aqueduct winter meeting and which have re-surfaced this year with a vengeance. To me, there is nothing that is more apt to turn away potential racing fans than the sight of horses suffering catastrophic breakdowns and being euthanized on the track, not to mention the dangers to the jocks. The future of winter racing at Aqueduct, if there is to be a future, will entail the installation of the synthetic track. This will be a tip-off as to whether Aqueduct will be kept open or not; in effect, it will become a niche track that will be for horses that can win in the horrid weather of a NY winter on a surface that will be useful for little else.
Marilyn More than 1 year ago
Synthetic also works fine at Golden Gate Fields.
Brandon Layer More than 1 year ago
Exemplary handling? Ha! Good one. The way Sherman has handled Chrome is embarrassing.
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
Sherman has been at the mercy of Martin and where he wanted to race most of the time, and given those constraints he has done well. I don't think the horse would do any better with another trainer. Maybe with a different owner.
Larry Kaufman More than 1 year ago
the only thing sherman did wrong is agree to train for those fools
CrystalB More than 1 year ago
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
Perry Martin thinks he can engineer his horse to a win. At least this time he will have no one to blame or give credit to except the man in the mirror.
michael More than 1 year ago
He's the owner and can make decisions in showcasing a champion. You get used to horses having three races a year. This is positive for racing. Quit being so negative.
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
I have an opinion. That is what comment sections at the bottom of opinion columns are for Michael.
kenneth More than 1 year ago
Cuomo, like any good Democrat, will simply utter diktats and ukases and expect the world to bow down. What Cuomo knows about horse racing would fit on the head of a pin with room left over for the Lord's prayer.
Joseph Giambra More than 1 year ago
amen, brother