Industry fears for horse racing’s future
Thoroughbred owners call for action in Albany
BY LEE COLEMAN Gazette Reporter Thoroughbred horse trainers, breeders and owners believe something needs to be done immediately about the future of racing in New York State. What will happen at the Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont race tracks after January 1 is currently very uncertain, a panel of experts from the horse racing industry said Thursday. The New York Racing Association’s franchise to operate the three tracks ends Dec. 31. But no decision from Albany on who will operate the three major tracks in 2008 seems likely any time soon, the experts said. “No one knows right now,” said thoroughbred trainer H. James Bond, who operates his large training center at NYRA’s Oklahoma Training Track in Saratoga Springs. “It’s a scary situation for everyone,” Bond said during a public forum on the future of racing in New York State held at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame on Union Avenue. The program was attended by approximately 200 people. They came to hear what horse trainers, horse breeders and a county economic planner have to say about what will happen when NYRA’s franchise ends. “I’m very concerned as a trainer, I’m concerned for the [horse] owners, I’m concerned for the town itself and for my people,” Bond said. The horsemen are worried that if Aqueduct doesn’t hold its annual winter racing meet, more than 2,000 thoroughbred horses will be transported to other states for racing and training. Later in the year, if the Saratoga Race Course on Union Avenue doesn’t hold its annual summer racing meet, the Saratoga County economy would be severely impacted, said Lawrence Benton, coordinator of a Saratoga County study on the economic impact of racing to the county. But all was not doom and gloom. “I’m confident something will happen,” said Richard Violette, a horse trainer and president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. Violette said he has been spending time in Albany in recent weeks, talking to key legislators and representatives of the governor. “The politicians understand there is urgency,” Violette said. “If the doors [at Aqueduct] didn’t open January 1, there would be a couple thousand horses with no place to train and race,” Violette said. His recommendation: Lock state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, and state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in a room. Nobody gets out until decision is made about who operates the three thoroughbred race tracks in 2008, Violette joked. Chris Dragone, executive director of the New York State Thoroughbred Breeders Inc., said the more than 1,000 horse breeders in his organization are also very concerned. “The clock is ticking, so to speak,” Dragone said. “We are at a crossroads.” He said that since 2004 some 1,000 breeding mares have been transported from New York to other states. “Horse racing has to come first and foremost and not politics,” Dragone said. Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito was connected to the panel by a telephone speaker hookup. “I believe Saratoga is a gift from God,” Zito said. “The politicians should understand that.” Zito, like the others, said the time has passed for discussion. The time has come for action in Albany. Benton said 53 of the 400 horse farms in New York State are in Saratoga County. He said the hotels being built at several locations in Saratoga Springs are built on the concept that July and August, when the track is running, will make their year. “We are all worried about where racing is going,” said Michael Veitch, a local racing journalist and panel moderator. “We are all worried about Jan. 1.” “We are talking about those people working in this game,” he said. “It’s a pretty urgent thing we are dealing with.” Members of the audience asked what they could do. The panelists suggested writing, phoning, and e-mailing legislators such as Sen. Bruno, urging him to resolve the situation so New York State horse racing has a bright future.
Senator Joseph Bruno
Speaker Sheldon Silver