03/21/2010 11:00PM

N.Y. rally, boycott called just the start


New York horsemen said Sunday's rally at Belmont Park and the boycotting of that day's first race at Aqueduct were just the beginning of their efforts to try and pressure government officials to make a decision regarding the stalled casino project at Aqueduct.

"There was undivided support for what we did yesterday, both [boycotting] the first race and the rally," trainer Rick Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said Monday morning. "People are very interested in what happens next, if we've gotten anybody's attention. It's just a matter if the message gets to Albany and we somehow capitalize on the community interest and frustrations. It certainly was a start. We can't drop the ball now."

Violette said other events could be planned, including trips to Albany or Saratoga and perhaps a rally at Aqueduct.

"This is too big of an issue to let die," he said. "Yesterday was a good start; let's see what else is on the horizon."

According to horsemen, approximately 1,200 people showed up at Belmont on Sunday for a two-hour rally in support of New York's beleaguered $2.4 billion Thoroughbred industry, which employs about 35,000 people. The majority of attendees Sunday were horsemen, breeders, and their families. Several union members and some local politicians also attended. There were no representatives of New York Racing Association management at the rally, though several NYRA employees attended.

The crowd was pleading for state leaders to choose a new vendor to run the 4,500-machine slot parlor at Aqueduct, first approved in 2001. In January, New York Gov. David Paterson selected Aqueduct Entertainment Group as the vendor, but state lottery officials concluded it could not issue a gaming license to that group. Legislators could choose from among the remaining bidders or decide to start the process all over again, which could set the project back years.

"The right bidders are there," trainer Gary Contessa said. "Let's go."

In another effort to garner attention, horsemen opted to boycott Sunday's first race at Aqueduct by deliberately not bringing their horses over to the race-day security barn by the 8 a.m. deadline, which necessitated that the field be scratched.

Violette was one of six trainers who were fined $500 each by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board for the boycott.

"It's the quickest action the Racing and Wagering Board has ever taken," Violette said. "Somehow on a Sunday afternoon [attorney Bob] Feuerstein and Chairman [John] Sabini were found and the release was on the press' desk before the seventh race. When are we going to have uncoupled entries?"

Violette was referring to a rules change proposed three years ago by the NYRA to allow for horses in the same race entered by the same trainer to run as separate betting interests as is done in several other jurisdictions.