… there also remains the undeniable fact that claiming races, by their very nature, serve to weaken the inherent responsibilities of both ownership and animal husbandry. The demands of constant turnaround require short-term solutions in veterinary care. The claiming game also nurtures the ability to suppress any real emotional attachments to the horses involved. They are, after all, merely transients — poker chips, as one famous claiming owner called them — no more or less than means to an end.
What’s the future for claiming races?
That’s one of the questions I took away from reading the New York Task Force report, which determined that sharply increased purses “commoditized” lower level claiming horses earlier this year, and suggested reforming claiming rules so that claims may be voided if a horse is vanned off. “The voiding of a claim should not require the death of the horse,” the report’s authors write on page 60. Practical, humane — exactly the sort of rule change that’s necessary if claiming races are going to continue to be a significant part of the game. But while the imbalance in purses and claiming prices at Aqueduct may have led to the resulting claiming frenzy last winter, it didn’t actually commodify the horses, because they were already commodities. Most in racing don’t question the system — the claiming game has been a pretty elegant solution to keeping races competitive over the years — but it’s becoming harder to defend.
Gov. Cuomo, in a startling move, has decided to “privatize” the running of the famed Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga thoroughbred tracks with a new management company that will replace the scandal-scarred New York Racing Association, The Post has learned.
I have no idea how this will play out, can make no predictions on how New York racing will be changed in the coming years, but do wish I could shake the unease and cynicism that comes with everything I read of Cuomo’s plans.
9/25/12 Addendum: Tom Noonan gives three reasons why privatization isn’t such a hot idea. Cuomo walks back the report, according to the New York Times, saying privatization is just one option that might be considered.
9/27/12 All you need to read on the subject: “I don’t see this happening.”
In June 2011, Courier-Journal reporter Gregory Hall live tweeted the John Veitch-Life at Ten hearing. It was superb coverage. “My 140-word tweets give fuller picture of the Veitch hearing than my newspaper story tomorrow will,” he wrote then, a realization that helped lead to yesterday’s launch of Hall’s new blog, HorseBiz, which promises “inside baseball” for racing folk. I’ve already added it to my RSS reader. You should too.
Few use 140 characters as effectively as @o_crunk, who tweeted about Trakus:
Trakus could be. Why isn’t it?
Also seeking answers re: New York racing …
On May 30, 2012, I made a freedom of information request to Racing and Wagering that was partially answered after the maximum number of delays allowed by law; then the information was mailed to the wrong address.
Frustrating. And the information she does get is illuminating only in what it reveals about the current state of New York’s racing stewardship.
In happier news: “After a period of time, IHA regained his calmness and he [grazed] in stately fashion just like a star.” Big Red Farm’s weekly I’ll Have Another updates are delightful (via).
… now things are starting to change. Where will the sport be when the slots money starts to go away? Whatever the answer is, it’s not a good one.
“The racing industry will get 16 percent of the racino’s net earnings,” Hayward said. “We can take a little bit of pain in terms of reduced handle.”
In Hayward’s favor, NYRA numbers are strong post-NYC OTB.
“He came out fantastic, legs ice cold, jogging sound at the shed row and ate up everything,” Santa Anita’s three-time training king said.
Nice to hear! The Donn could be next for ‘Eddie.
“Yes, I think he will get better,” Pletcher said. “And it’s kind of scary to think about that.”
The famously cool trainer just can’t contain himself, can he?
It’s amazing, but in a month the NYRA put together a better OTB than NYCOTB, which opened its first parlor in 1971.
Almost makes me wish I still lived in New York so I could check the place out.
Blind Luck is raring to go for the El Encino Stakes next Sunday. She worked seven furlongs on Santa Anita on Friday in 1:25.20 and then galloped out another seven furlongs. “For a slightly built filly, she has loads of energy,” observed Jay Privman. On Sunday, it was The Factor flying over the Santa Anita dirt, going five furlongs in :58 flat. “He went a little too fast — he got away from the rider,” said trainer Bob Baffert of the 3-year-old colt.
Culture clash at the Big A? “I feel like I’m in an OTB! I feel like I’m in an OTB!,” LATG overhears an Aqueduct patron telling a security guard. Friday was the one month anniversary of NYC OTB’s closure. Funny, but the parlors already seem like something out of the far past, which I suppose says something about how removed from the mainstream life of the city they had become. (If you’d like to remember days at the OTB, here’s an unexpectedly poignant little video that captures the operation’s waning hours.) While there are some pains as the new element is absorbed into the track scene, NYRA’s efforts to attract displaced OTB bettors are paying off with higher ontrack handle and 2,434 new NYRA Rewards customers since December 8. On Saturday, the new Belmont Café took in a high point $137,889 in wagers from 325 players. “It just goes to show you that simple accommodations — a clean bathroom and a decent place to eat — can go a long way,” writes Jerry Bossert. There’s a still a significant shortfall in NYRA’s total handle, but the trend is positive.
So, the investigation into the l’affaire Life at Ten is ongoing, with the Office of the Inspector General in the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet being brought in “to have some independent review for certain aspects of it.” That’s KHRC executive director Lisa Underwood talking to Jennie Rees, who also reports that the KHRC has conducted 90 interviews regarding the Breeders’ Cup
Distaff Ladies’ Classic fiasco. Ninety? Once this investigation concludes, how about another into what’s been a frustratingly opaque and slow process.
A New Year’s resolution particularly relevant to the above: “Protect the punter.”
Final handle numbers for 2010 were down 7.3% from 2009, to $11.4 billion from $12.3 billion. That’s the lowest annual total since 1995. “Obviously, we are losing bettors to other forms of gambling,” TRA executive vice president Chris Scherf tells Janet Patton. “We are in the midst of an unmanaged, market-driven contraction touching most aspects of the racing business.” Unmanaged is the key word, and nowhere is that more apparent right now that in the date dispute shaping up in southern Florida between Calder and Gulfstream. As for losing out to other games, sports bettors and poker players are pretty upfront about why they’re not paying much attention to racing.
Are you kidding me? Of all the things to complain about when it comes to New York racing, NYRA giving 327 non-union employees average pay raises of 3% is pretty far down the list. In any other year or any other industry, such a raise would be a run-of-the-mill annual cost-of-living increase. But in New York, and at NYRA, it’s an outrage! It’s arrogance! Especially because NYC OTB just closed! The New York Post, which breathlessly reports that “top managers” are getting raises and fraudulently invokes the specter of a state bailout for NYRA, gives space to
grandstanding politician Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee chairman Gary Pretlow to denounce NYRA as “bloated” and the raises as “an irresponsible act.” The Sarotogian headlines an editorial today, “Raises? Really?” and calls NYRA “tone deaf.” Nick Kling writes:
Non-union employees may get their additional money, but in the process NYRA has generated enough bad feeling to guarantee it will come back to bite the association when it wants something in the future.
That’s absurd. Here’s the thing: 3% — or even the average 5.5% given to 10 employees — isn’t that much money. NYRA president Charles Hayward, who defended the raises as the first given non-union workers since January 2008, told the Blood-Horse that the raises will cost NYRA approximately $600,000 in added payroll next year. That works out to around $1835 a year (or $153 a month, $35 a week) per employee, which raises the average salary of those workers from approximately $60,000 a year to around $62,000 a year. That’s $62,000 in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and at a time of great challenge to NYRA — with NYC OTB closing last week, and the Aqueduct racino opening in 2011, NYRA needs to retain its workers (and it really needs its workers to feel good about their jobs) if it’s not only going to survive what’s ahead, but come out thriving. Giving end-of-the-year raises to the rank-and-file is a strategic and morale-boosting move at a crucial moment in the organization’s history. Sorry, but there’s nothing outrageous about that.
New York City OTB was big, but it paid peanuts for simulcasting rights, and not just to NYRA (which gets about 50% more from out-of-state ADWs than it did from NYC OTB). In the Courier-Journal, Gregory Hall reports:
The New York City system wagered $9.6 million on Turfway Park races in 2009, resulting in $169,000 in revenues that were split between Turfway and its horsemen through purses, said Bob Elliston, president of the Florence, Ky. track. This year, with fewer Turfway racing dates, the total so far is just over $5 million, resulting in $87,000 in revenue split between Turfway and horsemen, he said.
That’s about 1.75 cents per dollar wagered. Turf Paradise had a slightly better deal, but NYC OTB still wasn’t adding much to the pot, reports DRF:
Vince Francia, the general manager of Turf Paradise, said on Friday that New York City OTB bettors had wagered $3.7 million on Turf’s signal since the track opened on Oct. 1, or about $77,000 a day. Because of New York City OTB’s bargaining power, Turf Paradise only kept 2 percent of that money as the simulcast fee, Francia said, for total revenue of $1,540 a day, an amount that was split with horsemen.
12/21/10 Addendum: New York breeders aren’t missing NYC OTB much either after two years of not receiving payments. “If you’re not getting anything it’s hard to feel like you’re losing something.”
NYRA keeps up its efforts to capture displaced OTB bettors, adding dark day simulcasting at Aqueduct and more bus routes from the city to the track. According to DRF, another 74 NYRA Rewards accounts were opened on Thursday, bringing the number of new accounts opened over the past couple weeks to 300. Friday’s on-track handle (which includes money bet through NYRA’s ADW) was $572,687, or $36,327 more than Thursday’s on-track handle; $22,125 more than the previous Friday. Slow, but steady gains? They must be hoping the pace picks up a little. Adding streaming video to the service would be a boon, but making that little change is tied up in the NYSRWB and, quite possibly, the legislature. Brooklyn Backstretch has been keenly following that part of the story.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the state senate Republicans announced the newly formed Task Force on the Revitalization of the Racing Industry in New York. Said task force member senator John Bonacic: “Racing is more than about people sitting in betting parlors. It is about the sport — making the tracks viable as racing entities — not just places where VLTs are played. We need to focus on helping the breeders and horsemen since they are the infrastructure that develops a successful racing product. We then need to market racing in a manner which brings fans to the track and generates interest in the sport overall.” Good luck, New Yorkers. [12/13/10 Addition: Over on ESPN, Paul Moran comments: "But wherever there is a New York politician, there is never the lack of calamity."]
Juvenile graded stakes racing winds down for the year with the Hollywood Starlet, which drew eight fillies, today and the Hollywood Futurity next Saturday. “A field of 13 or 14 is shaping up for the 30th running of the race,” including JP’s Gusto and Delta Jackpot winner Gourmet Dinner. Joe Talamo, back from injury, will be on JP’s Gusto once again. The jockey rode the horse through his first three starts. Pat Valezuala then had the mount through the Breeders’ Cup, winning the Del Mar Futurity and Best Pal with JP’s Gusto.
What a process, getting Zenyatta settled into farm life.
Aqueduct numbers year-to-year, week-to-week, and day-to-day:
On the second day without NYC OTB, on-track attendance was still up, and on-track handle spiked by almost 11% over Wednesday, 12.8% over the previous Thursday. Interstate handle declined from the day before, but was up a tiny 1.3% over last Thursday. The ugly number is intrastate handle, which was down 4.6% over Wednesday, and almost 39.1% from last Thursday. How much of that was money moving? The difference in on-track handle from Wednesday to Thursday is plus $53,125; intrastate handle minus $40,000. If most of the upped on-track dollars were formerly intrastate wagers, then NYRA made gains, even if small. Over on LATG, Alan Mann estimates that NYRA needs to “capture one-third of the wagers placed on its races at NYC OTB in order to break even,”* and it does seem as though they’re doing all they can to grab those bettors, if the flurry of press releases sent out today is any indication, offering double points to customers signing up for NYRA Rewards before December 31, opening up Belmont for simulcasting beginning this Sunday, and looking for a way to get the races back on TV in the city.
In a comment yesterday, EJXD2 said, “I wish people would stop lamenting the death of NYC OTB and instead celebrate that a corrupt system is no more.” Fair enough. Huzzah! NYC OTB is dead! But there’s not much time for lamenting or celebrating. John Pricci called December 7, “the beginning of the end of the modern era of racing in New York,” and while we may not look back on that as such a bad thing, given how troubled the era passing became in its latter days, there’s pain ahead due to lost livelihoods and inevitable structural changes. The bright side (really) is now that closure has come to pass, and action is necessary before the whole industry goes broke, New York has an opportunity to blow up the dysfunctional OTB system and replace it with a streamlined operation** better suited to supporting racing in the contemporary market, which means efficient management and an approach to customers that’s less get-your-fix and more have-great-fun. It won’t be easy, but it must be done.
*8:15 PM Update: Talking to reporters in the Aqueduct press box this morning, NYRA CEO Charles Hayward confirmed that’s about right: “Hayward estimated that NYRA has to try and make up for 35 percent of what NYCOTB handled at its parlors because only 2.4 percent of each dollar wagered at an OTB parlor goes to NYRA, compared with 10 percent of each dollar wagered ontrack.”
**12/10/10 Update: Writes Jerry Bossert in the NY Daily News: “I’m all for it, but it will never happen as there would then be only one President, one vice-president, one director of marketing, etc. It will never fly as there are too many patronage jobs out there currently occupying all those seats in the other five regions.” I fear he’s right — political considerations have held up past attempts at reform — but maybe NYC OTB closing was just the shock needed to make this time different. (Via @BklynBckstretch.)