Several members of the racing press have alluded this week to an interview of Charles Hayward that was broadcast over the NYRA cctv system at the track this week. As I tuned in to my TiVo’d Inside Racing tonight, expecting to watch Evening Attire’s win in the Queen’s County for the twelfth or thirteenth time, imagine my surprise when I saw Jan Rushton sitting with Charles Hayward, interviewing him about the state of New York racing.
Yes, that’s right: Charles Hayward, president and CEO of NYRA; interviewed by Jan Rushton, employee of NYRA; conducting an interview at Aqueduct, a NYRA track; that was shown on a NYRA channel; and re-broadcast on a NYRA highlight show.
Clearly not; this was not journalism, this was PR. I can only surmise that this is the interview to which the press has referred this week, and it seems to have been taped last week, and perhaps rendered largely irrelevant by recent developments. Nonetheless, I’ve captured as much of the interview as I can for your reading pleasure.
Jan Rushton asked about the highlights of the year on the track; Charles Hayward responded with references to Rags to Riches’ win in the Belmont; Street Sense’s victories in the Jim Dandy and Travers; and the setting of handle records at Saratoga. He also noted that every single Breeders’ Cup winner either trained or raced at a NYRA track. [Is this right? I didn’t think that it was all of them; nine of eleven, as I recall.] Hayward took this opportunity to express his appreciation for all of the employees who made racing happen.
Rushton compared the stellar year on the track to a tough year politically, noting that “we [emphasis mine] just won something in the bankruptcy court,” thus ending all pretext of journalistic objectivity.
Hayward, who looked ill at ease throughout the interview (not a TV guy, perhaps), explained that the bankruptcy plan had been approved by the creditors and that the disclosure statement had been approved by the courts. He noted that the next step in this process is due to take place on December 21st, and expressed satisfaction at the significant reduction of the IRS claim. Now, NYRA owes only $25 million.
Rushton: “Do you believe NYRA will get an extension?”
Hayward said that they’d been talking about the franchise for three years and that it should have been settled last March. He then declared that NYRA would be racing on January 1st, though he admitted that he didn’t know under what terms. He reiterated his commitment to continue racing, for the fans and the horsemen. Rushton then noted the importance of racing income to the State of New York.
Hayward declared, “We need to make sure that we take care of the people who make racing go.”
Rushton: “What would happen if we [love that pronoun] don’t get the extension?”
Hayward said that NYRA was developing contingency plans and that he wanted to keep horses in training at the very least, but reiterated that his goal is to keep racing going.
Rushton asked about the complexity of the political process for approving the franchise. Hayward said that the process is “simple on its face”: the governor makes a recommendation (Hayward noted that this had already been done) and the recommendation has be approved by the State Assembly. Hayward added that “Silver is on board,” implying that Assembly approval is thus a fait accompli, saying that the problem is in the (Bruno-led) Senate. He then added, “Albany is inexplicable.”
Rushton asked about VLT’s at Belmont; Hayward said that that will happen (that’s news to Sheldon Silver, I’m sure) and that the board has voted for it. He indicated that while VLT’s will be at Belmont, they won’t be a part of “this go-around.”
Rushton asked about an OTB merger with NYRA. Hayward sighed before answering, again indicating that it’s going to happen but is a year or two away. Looking on the bright side, he said that the benefit of NYRA’s and OTB’s troubles is the opportunity to move forward together. He remarked that New York is the only state in the country with “this situation,” by which I assume he means a split between racing and off-track betting interests.
Rushton then inquired about the next steps for the franchise, a fairly cheeky question given the current situation, don’t you think? Hayward replied that the Senate and Assembly would meet on the 13th (today), and that he was hopeful that the governor, speaker, and Senate would work on a plan to present to the Assembly, giving rise to questions about his mental state, as anyone expressing hope about Albany politicans working together is clearly delusional.
Rushton’s last question was about what’s in store for race fans in 2008; responding by saying that focus on the franchise had not left enough time and money to focus on the “live track experience,” Hayward commented on the new internet betting platform and rewards program, then referred to plans to make the Belmont backyard more like Saratoga and “other customer service enhancements,” including “tweaking” Saratoga to make it better. (“Tweak” and “Saratoga” in the same sentence make me nervous.)
Rushton closed the interview by saying, “Looking forward to you leading us into 2008.” Ah, pronouns.
I’m a NYRA supporter, and I met Jan Rushton at the Backstretch Employees Service Team brunch a couple of weeks ago, and I liked her, but I found the theater of this production a little hard to take. Then again, it’s better than Capital Play’s ad from a few weeks back. Too bad that much of Hayward’s optimism had to have been wiped away by the events of today, noted in The Blood-Horse and Daily Racing Form.