03/20/2014 1:28PM

Steven Crist: Not much reorganizing going on at NYRA


Having heard in the opening minutes of the latest board meeting of the New York Racing Association Reorganization Board that Aqueduct Race Track is is a “dirty and dangerous” place, I headed out to the Big A last Saturday to see if this is in fact the case.

It is not – but Aqueduct, like NYRA itself these days, is indeed a dysfunctional mess.

Aqueduct is home to the only casino in New York City, the Genting Resorts World facility with its acres of slot machines, upscale eateries, and robotic table games. You might think that the arrival of this casino more than two years ago might have dressed up or livened up the racing part of the facility, but instead it’s reminiscent of what happened when casinos came to Atlantic City: Nearly 40 years later, that seaside resort is nothing but the same old slum with a dozen gambling palaces dropped into its midst, the rest of the city unchanged.

At Aqueduct, the track and the casino are not partners but feuding roommates, acting as if the other does not even exist. There is not a single sign directing track patrons to the casino or vice versa, or a single television in the casino showing the live horse races taking place a few yards away. The relationship, which the state could have mandated to be a cooperative and mutually beneficial one, has grown more and more acrimonious, and Genting’s name has disappeared from sponsorship of this year’s Wood Memorial.

This is par for the course at American racinos, but we kept hearing that it was going to be different in New York. Instead, we have a governor in Andrew Cuomo who keeps suggesting that racing should be discontinued at Aqueduct, a longtime refrain from outsiders to racing who have not thought through how that would work. Winterizing Belmont Park is a massively expensive proposition that no one can pay for and still would leave New York racing without enough stabling for its horses if Aqueduct closed.

The NYRA Reorganization Board has been charged with examining this issue, and the entire future ownership and operation of New York racing, but the evidence from its new “transparent” (i.e., televised) board meetings is that no one is doing any serious thinking about that. Instead, the board seems stuck exactly where it was when it began its mission 18 months ago, with trustees complaining about their luncheon accomodations rather than addressing the future.

There are some good things happening at NYRA, especially on the racing side since the hiring of Martin Panza from Hollywood Park to restore and reshape a stagnant racing office and program. Unfortunately, these improvements are undermined and obscured by the fear that Aqueduct could be shut down by the state, no matter how unrealistic or unlikely that actually is.

NYRA recently announced an overhaul to the statebred stakes program, theoretically making it more attractive to invest in farms and bloodstock in the state. The best way to encourage such investment, however, would be to remove investors’ fears that half of the New York racing program might disappear at a governor’s whim, and building confidence that there is any kind of plan to preserve what could and should be a successful industry.

Instead the governor has charged NYRA management with demonstrating it can balance its books without the revenue it receives from the casino, an exercise designed only to stir fear that he has some kind of plan to circumvent the law and take that revenue away. That’s the dirtiest and most dangerous thing going on at Aqueduct.

PETA’s charges

The racing world awoke Thursday to a huge and ugly mess in the form of charges of animal cruelty and labor violations by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, accompanied by hidden-camera video taken last year by a PETA investigator posing as an employee of the Steve Asmussen stable. It was typically dishonest, sensationalized propaganda from PETA, but was given a veneer of credibility by being leaked to and endorsed by The New York Times, which first reported the story after being given exclusive access to the material.

Nobody expects PETA to be fair or accurate, but the Times is supposed to be better than that and never would have run the story on its own without observing the basic tenets of journalism its readers expect and deserve – putting the taped remarks in context, investigating the assertions or going to the targeted parties for their reaction and explanation. Instead, it avoided any of those basic obligations with a one-sided “scoop” on a third party’s uninformed and unanswered allegations.

This one isn’t going away quickly. The video, however unfair, is sickening in its coarseness and callousness. Racing’s supposed leaders and spokesmen need to formulate a swift and strong response, exposing the more ludicrous insinuations and addressing those with any merit.

Michael More than 1 year ago
Not a mention one time of people who actually love their animals. If they are after horse racing they might as well get on the show jumpers, barrel racers, cowboys, etc. etc. etc. Freaking media is so sensational I just cant take it anymore. Go CC...
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
For SHAME! No one edited Blasi vowing to "fool" the stewards next time in order to run his lame horse. Wake up and smell the coffee. There is nothing ludicrous about that except for your lame response to a chronic and wide spread throughout the sport issue.
Mark Hartney More than 1 year ago
Steve - I hope you will write more about the PETA video and accusations and be specific about what aspects of the story you believe are "dishonest" or sensationalized. I suspect I am like many fans of the game - I am not going to accept PETA's biased reporting on its face, nor am I going to reject it out of hand. Many aspects of the video (beyond the coarseness and callousness) are extremely troubling, including the treatment of Nehro's feet and the references to the use of batteries. These allegations need to be addressed fully and accurately, and without gratuitous slams against PETA. Yours is as strong a voice as the industry has - use it to set the record straight and inform your readers. thanks
Salvatore Agro More than 1 year ago
The truth hurts real bad. The crux of the PETA reporting was accurate. In fights like this it is absolutely necessary to resort to the tactics that were used. Crist amazes me. I'll bet he never spent any real watching what life on the backside is like. He would not last a week. This just in, betting the P4 and being chief editor at FRD does not make you knowledge about the inner workings of the sport. Does that statement shock you? Crist, man up and get behind the reform movement in all its aspects. You'll be doing everyone involved a big favor. Maybe one day we can have a sport we can really be proud of.
David Courtland More than 1 year ago
He didn't say he's opposed to reform. He said PETA's video isn't the right way to make the case that needs to be made. Their reputation makes it too easy for the racing establishment to ignore what's happening and hit Asmussen with yet another slap on the wrist.
Dave engel More than 1 year ago
The most troubling aspect of the PETA allegations is the willingness of the Times and others to conclude that the Asmussen "revelations" reflect the entire industry. Racing has its fair share of bad actors, but no more so than other businesses and industries. The Times has become obsessed with racing while ignoring all sorts of bad behavior in other businesses. The fact that PETA sat on the Nehro "information" for at least 3 years also casts doubt on its veracity.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
Honey, Nehro died last year, not three years ago. They were about to put the man in the HOF! Not widespread? If you have to run lame, sore horses to get there, then trust me, plenty of others want the money and the fame and are all too happy to compromise the hapless horse.
Riddle This More than 1 year ago
Aqueduct can and should be closed as a racing facility. Belmont's training track could be winterized with the construction of a small grandstand facility for winter racing. Remove the Aqueduct grandstand and track for new development, but keep enough land to build a new smaller training track.
mb More than 1 year ago
mr crist step down
Larry Kaufman More than 1 year ago
i said the same thing and he takes down my posts
mb More than 1 year ago
hes having an existensial crisis
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
Let the upper level jerks in this sport expose themselves!
Nicholas Briglia More than 1 year ago
There have been rumors about Aqueduct closing down for over 20 years. It hasn't happened because there is no alternative. Unless they are willing to shut down live racing for four months than Aqueduct must stay open. Belmont cannot be winterized. It is a ridiculous idea. It was built for summer. Even in October that place is uncomfortably cold. The facility itself is too big for its own good. It was built for a different time, now long gone.
Ken Rossi More than 1 year ago
After watching PETA's video, and trust me I am no fan of theirs, I came away disturbed and angry. Yes, their tactics are crafted to reveal the darkest aspects of racing, their methods are duplicitous, and their agenda is evident, but,fragmented and focused as the expose' was, it revealed much that requires redress. I love the game as much as anyone and have been a player for over 40 years, my inclination being to always give racing the "benefit of the doubt." This situation, however, necessitates a painful, especially honest look at, and discussion of, possible corruption in the game. Those of us who revel in the sport's greater beauty and scope, must remain vigilant in the protection of its integrity. The 1995 Kentucky Derby, won by D. Wayne's Thunder Gulch, is a significant example of a "cover up," and "head-in-the-sand" approach to scandal. Gary Stevens clearly handed a black box-like device to Pat Day in an awkward handshake after the finish. People called Churchill Downs and the broadcast networks in droves and the response was quietly dismissive. The incident was rarely spoken of and even those who should know better seem reticent to speak of it even now. That incident was in no way similar to the silly accusations of Eric Guillot in last years Travers; there is clear video evidence from the "95 Derby, with magnified shots of the "device" exchanging hands. I have seen that video and it is compelling. Steve, the only way to disinfect the current malefaction of racing's public perspective is to shine sunlight directly on it, and be unafraid of what we find. Then, and only then, can any corruption be thoroughly cleansed. The racing industry mutst have a response; a fearlessly honest one.
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jaybern1 More than 1 year ago
Google "1995 Kentucky Derby - Thunder Gulch - YouTube" Make sure it's the video that is 22:07 long. Watch carefully at exactly 12:11 into the video and stop it if you can, and you will clearly see Stevens handing Pat Day a black box.
Ken Rossi More than 1 year ago
Thank you
Ken Rossi More than 1 year ago
Wish I could, but saw a VHS video 10 years ago...will look for it online...
Howard Schwartz More than 1 year ago
If you think Gary Stevens handed Pat Day a buzzer, you must believe in the Easter Bunny, Your mind I not right. Pat Day would not chest for a penny much less for 10 million,
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mike More than 1 year ago
FROM THE NY TIMES: MAKE OF IT WHAT YOU WILL: The violations relate to what are known as “exotic” bets — high-stakes wagers like a trifecta or superfecta, in which someone picks the first three or four horses in order; and bets that require choosing finishers in multiple races, like the Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 6, and Grand Slam. After the 2008 law expired, the association was allowed to keep no more than 25 percent of the take on exotic bets, but it kept collecting 26 percent. In December, the racing association said it had committed an “unintentional oversight.” “This change was unintentionally overlooked, due to the complexity of the takeout provisions in the racing law,” the agency’s communications director, Dan Silver, said in a statement at the time. As part of its effort to make amends, the agency lowered the takeout rate on exotic bets going forward, to 24 percent. But e-mail traffic included in the report indicates that Charles Hayward, the racing association’s chief executive, knew about the takeout rate problem. He received an e-mail on Sept. 28, 2010, from an unidentified individual outlining the problem, and Mr. Hayward forwarded it to the association’s general counsel, according to the report. The discussion was not limited to Mr. Hayward. In another e-mail, an association vice president, Elizabeth Bracken, told another executive: “Takeout legislation sunsets middle of September, but I have not heard that we intend to lower takeouts.” In August 2011, Steven Crist, publisher of The Daily Racing Form, e-mailed Mr. Hayward, forwarding a reader’s concern the takeout rate was “outside the parameters of the law.” In a reply, Mr. Hayward said the association had meant to address the issue but “political forces intervened.” After facing steep losses and being “smacked around by Cuomo,” they decided to wait to address the issue, he wrote. Mr. Crist, a former New York Times reporter and a former racing association executive, agreed to keep the discussion confidential. Months later, in a column, he said the association made “an honest mistake.” In an interview Sunday, he said he believed at the time that the association was not required to change the takeout rate.
mike More than 1 year ago
I find Mr. Hayward's quotes (in the paragraph third from the bottom) to be extremely vague. Months later Mr. Crist writes that NYRA made a mistake. Seems like a convenient mistake to ignore the fact that takeout needed to be lowered as per NY State law.