Sunday, January 20, 2013

Frozen brains?

NYRA has a problem. Oh not the kind that you usually associate with the racing organization that has been described in the media as (pick one); beleaguered, corrupt, rudderless, clueless, incompetent, or any other choice adjective that is meant to be unflattering. This specific problem is one that continually plagues the thoroughbred industry at virtually all levels and has infected most every segment of the sport. It is a favorite of a certain feckless group of  media members that seem to believe they know all the answers even before the questions have been asked. One could call it being a knee jerk reactionary or perhaps a better explanation would be a treatment of symptoms without identifying they root cause of the illness.

If you are willing to accept the premise that NYRA is sick (a sketchy idea considering bullish business numbers reported last week) then the first order of business is to review the symptoms. Obviously number one on the list would be the issue of breakdowns on the Aqueduct inner track considering the agenda of the new NYRA board's upcoming meeting. There is no evidence that the inner track surface has any issues considering that the numbers we are talking about are taken from a frighteningly small pool and just aren't statistically relevant. Breakdowns are generally isolated issues that don't have any common causes despite the nonsense you read in the press and on the internet. Of the "solutions" to this issue that are being suggested are a synthetic track or even more drastic, ending winter racing in New York. The synthetic track cure is most likely folly and a waste of a considerable amount of resources with the potential for unintended consequences.  The cost would be a major hit and considering the trouble that the surfaces (Turfway, Santa Anita) have had in other jurisdictions the number could rise. Adding a third surface to the equation is surely going to turn off many of your customers as there is a large segment of  bettors that simply wont bet or will drastically reduce their play on synthetics. Another issue with synthetic tracks especially in the winter months is that the fake tracks need plenty of moisture to be at their best and as Turfway learned that even though the polytrack in particular wont freeze, water does. Another item that is likely to come into play is that the really great surface known as the Aqueduct main track would almost certainly be scuttled. Why would you maintain 2 separate surfaces requiring different styles of maintenance especially when the newer supposedly safer surface cost $20 million to put in? Not to mention what if there were an unfortunate spat of breakdowns or one in a high profile race like the Wood or Cigar Mile contested on the main track? We would hear what idiots NYRA was for still utilizing the main track when they had that super safe polytrack that cost all that money to install.

The real head scratcher is the idea that New York racing simply shut down during the Winter. This is not only an idea with virtually no merit it is strikingly naive especially in light of the highly publicized "takeover" of NYRA by the state. Can you imagine the political fallout when the thousands of people whose jobs are connected to NYRA, its horsemen and all the other ancillary businesses are laid off or relocated to other states? The backsides are expensive to maintain and would we expect NYRA to continue to keep Belmont and Aqueduct open during these non-racing months? If not where exactly are the trainers a supposed to go for those few months?  How many of the trainers and their owners and employees would be willing to stay and ship outside the state to run or pay stall rents or some other scheme to minimize the maintenance expense?  How many might decide that without the year round circuit, New York racing loses its luster and they decide to base somewhere else where the cost of living is cheaper, just shipping to NYRA tracks when the occasion requires it?  The damage to the NY breeding program will be felt upstate as a large number of breeders count on the income of both purses and breeders awards earned during those winter months as the number of racing opportunities for New York breds would be drastically reduced by closing down NYRA for three or more months.

The fact is the states that would be receiving New York's horses, horsemen, jockeys and owners during this shutdown are essentially NYRA's competition.  By handing them better horses for the Winter you are strengthening their programs, more or less making their product more desirable and also giving your customers a reason to pay attention to the tracks that you are fighting for the betting dollar for. The idea that not running in Winter would lead to bigger field sizes when racing resumed in the spring makes no sense. Trainers arent going to alter how they train or race horses because of the schedule. Just because you close down for the Winter, come spring guys arent going to look to run their horses every 10 days to make up the difference. The truth is that some of the horses will find class relief to their benefit when racing at the lesser venues may not return to the NYRA circuit. Does anyone really believe that the betting public will just stop betting for those months and how do you make up the lost revenue of your out of state patrons who will be betting somewhere else for 1/4 of the year? Can racing realistically expect to continue to receive the same amount of slots revenue during those months that there is no racing?

 One question that I would love to pose to the new NYRA board is where is the grand plan for New York racing?   Before making drastic changes come up with a comprehensive plan of action for the entire racing program, identify all the weaknesses and strengths under the entire NYRA umbrella. Be realistic but take a look at WHY things are like they are and remember that many of the members of the media giving you free advice didn't major in business or economics in college, didn't sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night and never have to accountable for any of the nonsensical ideas that they come up with or support.

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