Hello, 1913!

It was tough to work up the enthusiasm for a year in review of racing for 2012.  It was supposed to be the year in which New York racing finally put a decade of drama behind it, a decade of franchise uncertainty, of VLT procrastination, of bankruptcy and court cases. It was supposed to be the year that New York racing breathed a sigh of relief.

What’s that saying—we plan, the racing gods laugh?

Instead of prosperity and celebration, we got injury and investigation. The casino at Aqueduct, initially the symbol of changing fortunes, became the representation of all that is wrong with racing when the revenue it generated was seen, rightly or wrongly, as a contributing factor to the spate of breakdowns here last winter. The revelation that NYRA had knowingly charged a higher takeout than law allowed led to the dismissal of Charlie Hayward and Patrick Kehoe. Governor Cuomo decided that the state should take over NYRA’s operations, then waited months before appointing a new board. That board has yet to name a new CEO.

But the course of New York racing never did run smooth, and 2013 offers a great reminder of that for the historically minded, as this year marks the 100th anniversary of racing’s return to New York after an absence of two and a half years.

In August of 1910, the downstate racing associations declined their racing dates when Saratoga closed; the state’s anti-gambling laws had become so onerous that track operators saw little use in opening, even though gambling did not then as it does now significantly fund racing operations.

Racing came back in May at Belmont, and this year, Brooklyn Backstretch will track the return of the sport to its most prestigious circuit with regular posts about New York racing in 1913.

We also celebrate a happier anniversary this year: the sesquicentennial of organized Thoroughbred racing in Saratoga. Saratoga 150 has been preparing for more than a year; as a member of the historical committee, I contributed to the timeline on the group’s website, and visitors to Saratoga this year will find no shortage of activities honoring both the town and the sport.  That first Saratoga meeting was only a few days long, but we’ll take a look back to celebrate John Morrissey’s crazy, brilliant idea to open a new racetrack as the country was mired in civil war.

History tells us that regardless of the predicaments in which New York racing has found itself over the last century and a half, it has somehow found a way to get through them; we’ve no reason to doubt that this, too, shall pass, particularly if Cuomo’s board chooses a CEO who will bring vision, leadership, and integrity to an industry whose rich history deserves nothing less.

Happy new year!

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