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Monday, February 21, 2011

Oh, the Irony of It All

It is time for a history lesson.  For most of Hialeah's history, they had the lucrative winter racing months in Southeast Florida, with Gulfstream and Calder picking up the crumbs.  Then the complexion of the Hialeah area changed and Gulfstream saw an opening.  In 1988, the Florida legislators decided that racetracks could choose their own dates without regulatory approval.  So in the winter of 1989, Hialeah and Gulfstream Park refused to blink and each track decided to race against each other for fifty days.  Of course, for two tracks so close together to operates with a dwindling fan base, it was a matter of time until one of the tracks cried uncle.

Needless to say, with the perception that the Hialeah area became unsafe (actually more of a Latin flavor) and the vow of Gulfstream to go into their cash reserves to offer better racing, Gulfstream was able to outspend for the better horses and jockeys and along with it; drew the customers away from Hialeah.  Needless to say after that year, Hialeah Park closed, unable to compete; and they remained closed until the hope of a racino got Hialeah to reopen back in 2009 to run quarterhorses.

As they say, unless you learn from it, history is destined to repeat itself and once again, Gulfstream is out to race against Calder, a track a mere eight miles away during the month of December.  Needless to say, this is going to end badly as you will have Churchill Downs (Calder) going against Magna (Gulfstream).  Jockeys and trainers are going to be pulled in opposite directions, risking consequences for making their choices.  Of course, the fan base and off-track wagering is going to be split between the two tracks.  Add in the fact that next year Hialeah may bring in some thoroughbred races under their quarterhorse license, there is going to be a two or three way pull on wagering dollars.  Both tracks will probably endure a bloodbath; but will it mean the end of one of the tracks?  That remains to be seen.

So what does this have to do with harness racing?  One of the reasons why the Meadowlands is in the mess it is in now is because Yonkers Raceway and the Meadowlands have been competing against each other since the Yonkers racino opened up.  Yonkers, which was down and out now had the financial power to attract some of the better horses and drivers to race at Yonkers, a mere fifteen miles away from the Meadowlands.  Sure, some horses didn't defect due to Yonker's half mile oval, but once again, Yonkers had a bettable product (assuming you are a half mile track fan); drawing some local gamblers over to Yonkers as well as some of the wagering action nationally.  While the handle at Yonkers has never gotten close to the Meadowlands', the fact remains wagering dollars left East Rutherford which contributed to the very losses which made Governor Christie decide it was time for the state government to get out of the racing business which brings us to where we are now (Chester Downs also has helped contribute to the financial loss)..

Yes, the NYSRWB could care less about the Meadowlands as the NJRC could care about Yonkers which is a problem in itself, but with the number of racing days Yonkers horsemen have in their contract there could not be anything but a date conflict between the two tracks fifteen miles apart.  In some ways, you could say the SOA of New York has indirectly become Gulfstream Park and the Meadowlands has become Calder.

Yes in our economy the free market rules.  But some states have learned to compromise in an effort to avoid mutual destruction.  For years, after killing each other running overlapping meets, Pennsylvania and Delaware used to coordinate racing dates so Liberty Bell and Brandywine didn't compete against each other.    I am not sure the Yonkers wants to coordinate dates with the Meadowlands, but even if they did, they are hampered by the number of racing days the SOA of NY has in their contract with Yonkers Raceway.  That's right, a contract negotiated by a horsemen's group led by Joe Faraldo. 

Let me point it out that Mr. Faraldo was looking out for his members, but by looking out for his members in a vertical silo, he may have helped kill off the Meadowlands; the track which is propping up the whole industry if you listen to the doomsayers.  If this is the case, wouldn't it be the ultimate irony if he becomes the Chairman of the Board of the USTA?

We will see on March 13.

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