Would you believe that I planned last week to write a post for today about what’s going on at the New York Racing Association?
No, I probably wouldn’t either, if I were you, but it’s true.
Starting at the beginning of Derby week, when the New York Times reported that New York State alleged that NYRA knowingly withheld payment from bettors, the news about New York racing has been one hit after another. The Times published the second installment in its series about racing’s ills, focusing on Aqueduct; by the end of the week, both Charles Hayward and Patrick Kehoe had been dismissed.
I didn’t respond immediately for a couple of reasons. One was timing: getting ready to go to the Derby, juggling school commitments and writing commitments and hockey commitments (thank God there’s some good news there, at least), left little time for the sort of considered response that the events merited and that I wanted to offer.
I also wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to say, or how to say it. I know no more than what I’ve read, and I am cautious about responding to anything that’s been printed: allegation and speculation and investigation, oh my. I don’t know what’s true, and I’ve no interest in commenting on a situation that seems to change by the day, and about which I have no first-hand information or insight.
In addition, as a contributor to BelmontStakes.com and the Belmont Stakes program, I have close ties to NYRA. In fact, it was NYRA and Charlie Hayward that made it possible for me to write about racing. In the summer of 2008, it was Hayward who was responsible for my being granted my first ever press credential, and nothing I’ve done since then would have been possible without the opportunities the organization gave me. I value that relationship and the work I do for NYRA.
Now, the State of New York has declared war on New York racing, withholding slots revenue and announcing an investigation into licensing and possible revocation of the franchise agreement. The State has made it clear that it wants greater involvement in the way racing is run, seeking greater representation on the NYRA board, this same state with not one but two agencies obliged to oversee NYRA’s operations, neither of which was apparently doing much overseeing while the alleged wrongdoings were being committed.
When NYRA handed over the tracks and their intellectual property as part of the most recent franchise agreement, I cringed. Having witnessed the dysfunction of this state’s government for decades, I couldn’t bear the thought of New York’s grand racing past and present in the hands of the corrupt, the inept, the self-interested, in the hands of people who have no understanding, much less an appreciation, of what racing has meant to this state since the middle of the 19th century.
And now, it seems, that is exactly what will come to pass. The lives and livelihoods of thousands of horses and humans in New York will be at the mercy of those with greedy agendas, of those who seem, if the recent past is any indication, to have little regard for the well-being of the state’s citizens if it doesn’t directly benefit them or advance their causes.
Whatever has or hasn’t happened at NYRA will and should be investigated. We can hope that some version of the truth—real truth, not just a convenient one–will make its way to the public, and that the public—and not only politicians–will be served.
Whatever has or happened at NYRA, the people who work there, and the people who work on the backstretch, and the people who work on farms and in feed stores and for van companies, deserve much, much better than to be pawns in New York State’s latest political game.
But that, I’m afraid, is exactly what they’ve got.