In an explosive article in Harness Racing Update, Jeff Gural says in most likelihood, he will walk away from attempting to save the Meadowlands if Joe Faraldo wins the chairmanship of the USTA. An attempt to influence the election? Absolutely. An idle threat? I doubt it.
The fact these two do not care for each other is no surprise. Toxic is the best way to describe their relationship. How toxic is it? The moment I heard that Gural was being asked to step in and attempt to save the Meadowlands, I asked friends within the industry how long it would take for Faraldo to attack him. Good thing I was quick in posing that question, because within a day; there was the attack. Gural only wants the Meadowlands so he can get slots was the accusation; despite the fact as long as Christie is Governor, there will be little or no chance for slots in the Meadowlands, meaning if Christie wins re-election, it could be 2018 at the earliest before slots make it to the Meadowlands. So Gural is willing to potentially lose millions for seven plus years to get the slots which may never come? I don't think so.
Having personally heard remarks from an individual associated with the Yonkers horsemen groups say "Why should the horsemen pay to promote the sport", and the fact that Vernon horsemen, who are affiliated with Faraldo, refused to agree to a reduction in the takeout despite Tioga horsemen agreeing to the reduction (Tioga horsemen have no affiliation with Faraldo), you get a sense of the mentality which will prevail at the top of the USTA if Faraldo wins. A recipe for disaster.
For those who wonder why horsemen should contribute to promoting the sport, I'll tell you why. Racinos will not. Is that fair? No, but then most racinos don't care if racing survives. I can safely say two racinos who do care if racing survives, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs; racinos led by Jeff Gural. Many of these racinos have been bought by gambling companies and will be more than happy to see harness racing (and thoroughbred racing for that fact) go away. They have to offer harness racing as a loss leader, If they can get rid of having to have a loss leader they will be more than happy. So if people in harness racing want to see it survive, they better start investing a portion of their welfare checks on making sure their sport is still around.
I have been claiming for awhile now that Faraldo stands for business as usual and you know how well that has worked. Do you think the SOA of NY (currently led by Joe Faraldo) will ever agree to a reduction in their takeout rate? Do you think a Chairman of the Board Faraldo will encourage other horsemen groups to agree to a takeout reduction or contribute to promoting the sport?
Axelrod gets it. Maybe his talk of five or six major harness tracks got people upset. Maybe his comments earlier on in HoofBeats which basically chastised many leaders of the sport, including many of the directors of the USTA with being unwilling to make changes to save the sport irked you. The fact is Axelrod spoke the truth. Until the directors of the USTA 'get it', the chances of harness racing becoming a five or six track industry is possible. I sincerely believe and hope with Axelrod continuing as Chairman of the Board, there is a chance the status quo may change; a chance which I tend to doubt will exist with a Faraldo-led USTA. Apparently so does Gural..
So maybe the election for Chairman of the Board now takes on a little more significance. Most people have argued that the future of harness racing depends on the continuing survival of the Meadowlands. Well, apparently the directors of the USTA have a chance this Sunday to vote on the future of harness racing. A hope for change, or the same old same old?
Idle threat by Gural? Some will say so. Having met him in the past, I don't think so. I think this goes past the Gural-Faraldo feud. If you see no hope for things changing meaningfully, would you invest your money in operating a non-racino track? Apparently neither does Gural and you can't blame him.
Sunday's session of the USTA annual meeting has taken on increased importance, by 2:30pm EDT (make sure to change your clocks this weekend), the future of the Meadowlands may have been decided. You can watch the proceedings live on http://www.ustrotting.com/