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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rose Colored Glasses

The leadership of the SOA of NY must be looking through rose colored glasses these days with its constant attacks against Jeff Gural.  Anytime Gural say or does something, you can be sure there is a response coming from the SOA and it is never in support of him.  A perfect example of that was the announcement that Gural was helping to save the Meadowlands.  The pronouncement coming from the SOA leadership?  He is doing it for slots which will be coming (so positive slots were coming).  This despite everyone else praising Gural for stepping in as the closure of the Meadowlands would possibly result in the demise of the standardbred racing or at best, make it as popular as professional lacrosse.

Ah, having the rose colored glasses of slots is a wonderful thing.  The amount of handle at Yonkers is no better than Cal Expo.  Wouldn't it be wonderful to be racing for the purses they are racing for in California?  Who cares that Yonkers has closed their backstretch?  At least at Tioga and Vernon Downs, there is a backstretch and there is no stall rent during the racing season (there is rent at Vernon Downs for winter training).  How many tracks are offering free stabling these days?

How much movement has the SOA made had with Rooney regarding moving the finish line back to where it was before they tore the old grandstand down?  None,  As a result, every overnight race is being contested at 1 1/16 mile which frustrates many gamblers in order to avoid horses starting going immediately into the first turn.

There is so much promotion of horse racing at Yonkers; that is if you consider the talking horse in the racino commericals.  When was the last time there was any promotion of racing itself in the regular media?  The SOA is so flush with purse money; as much as they are in Pennsylvania, yet you don't see the SOA partnering with Yonkers Raceway to get naming rights to a sports arena and you don't see any weekly racing show highlighting the racing as done by the PHHA (PA Harnessweek).  There is no PostTime show being shown on local television as is done by the DSBOA.  You don't see any of Yonkers races getting on MAV-TV as done by the PHHA in partnership with the racetrack.  You didn't see Yonkers bid for last year's Breeders Crown which Pocono was able to thanks to the PHHA offering to give up a sizable amount of their purse money to pay for it.   Oh, that's right,. it is the racetracks' responsibility to promote horse racing.

Meanwhile, the SOA's target of opposition, Gural, the so called casino man, spends money on promotions to get people to come out to the track, designs the Tioga Downs casino so it has a harness racing motif and people know harness racing is going on.  The same man who runs promotions both at Tioga and even Vernon, where the horsemen are not exactly friendly with Gural.  The man who has so little interest in harness racing that he sponsors a weekly highlight show which highlights racing at Tioga and Vernon Downs that is shown on cable.  A man who races horses and breeds them.  Yes, he wants casinos, but his desire for casinos allows him to have the harness racing he loves continue, not a person who has harness racing because he has to.  Yes, both tracks have limited race meets; probably because the area can't support unlimited racing (after all, didn't Vernon Downs pre-Gural go through two bankruptcies?); and he believes in making racing something special, not a monotonous gambling sport which goes on and on.  Yes, Gural wants casinos but he is a horsemen and a big supporter of harness racing.

Life is so horrible at Tioga and Vernon Downs for the horsemen?  True, Vernon Downs doesn't race as many dates as in the old days, but how many days were being raced at Vernon when the track was shuttered under bankruptcy?  Gural introduced harness racing at Tioga Downs, a failed quarterhorse track where they had no idea what a harness race even was.  Apparently, Gural gets no credit for saving some classic stakes races which were being shedded by other tracks; some from other racinos.  Where was the Cane Pace going to be raced if not for Gural and the Tioga horsemen (yes, it went to Pocono this year at the last moment due to flooding)?  Where were the old Historic Stakes the Meadowlands shedded going to be raced if not for Tioga Downs?  What about the stakes races created by Gural at Tioga and Vernon Downs to make the tracks a must stop destination for the best horses in the country?  When was the last time Yonkers added a new stakes race?  Other than the Levy Memorial series and NYSS races, when was the last time a full field was had for any of their major stakes races?  Not only is it a  case of the half mile oval being a hindrance, but the high sustaining and starting fees to get into these stakes.  If the SOA added more money to the stakes programs, the entry fees may not have to be so high, thus encouraging more of the top horses to race in them.  When it comes to racing in the big races, the top horses in the country and Canada look at Tioga and Vernon Downs, not Yonkers Raceway.

Does this sound like Gural is the enemy of harness racing in New York?  No, the problem appears to be Jeff Gural is looking for changes to improve the sport and the SOA appears to be satisfied with the status quo.  Gural doesn't wear rose colored glasses and he sees what is going on and what will be if fundamental changes are not made.  The SOA never takes those glasses off.

No doubt the heavy gamblers in New York are at Yonkers.  However, let's compare the geographic areas of the tracks.  If Yonkers didn't have a higher handle, there would be a real problem.  The Tioga horsemen agreed to reducing takeout in an effort to build the business.  Would the SOA agree to a lower takeout?

Sitting on that stack of slot money allows people to look through rose colored glasses.  As perverted as it sounds, if not for 9-11 there would not have been slot machines at racetracks in New York that quickly and there is a good chance Yonkers Raceway would have closed long before they arrived..  If not for the fact a Rooney ran Yonkers, the track would have been long closed; not much longer after the closing of Roosevelt.

Gural the enemy of harness racing?  Horsemen in any other state would be happy to have someone like him to work with.  But not in New York.  Why not?  Because he wants horsemen to put their money up along with the tracks in promoting the sport.  The SOA leadership will argue that they put on the show and invest money in racehorses; it is up to the tracks to do the promotion (not that they invest in their tracks).  Well, where would the show be performing if not for the tracks?

Rose colored glasses, in the form of slot money hide a lot of the flaws and problems.  I suggest the SOA leadership team take them off and maybe then realize what Gural is doing for standardbred racing.  Sure there will be differences, but there is a difference between having a difference of opinion and seemingly going against every proposal Gural makes.

Yes, there are time Gural proposes things to benefit the casino end of the business, but remember without racinos, there is a good chance the only harness racing in the State of New York would be at Goshen and the county fair level.  Remember, Jeff Gural may head the operations of Tioga and Vernon Downs but there are other people who have money invested in these racetracks.  These people want to see a profit on their investment and it is not coming from racing.  So maybe there are times he looks out for his partners' interest, he has a fiduciary responsibility to do so.  (Update as of 9/22:  Jeff Gural's company Tioga Downs LLC has bought out his partners at American Racing and Entertainment and merged Tioda Downs LLC into AR&E.) His doing so allows racing to continue in New York, not only at this tracks.  Have a problem with what he proposes?  Fine.  Address them through the proper channels; there is no need to resort to attack press releases.

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