New York, a key host site in the early years of the Breeders' Cup world championships, has not been used since 2005. And there is no return in sight, much to the chagrin of owners and trainers based there.
They are not sure whether to blame West Coast-leaning Breeders' Cup officials or the New York Racing Association. The latter, for myriad reasons, has not formally expressed interest since it formulated a bid early in 2011 that was aimed at the following autumn.
“It's certainly disappointing and frustrating,” said Rick Violette Jr., president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association since 2008. “There are some legitimate reasons, and reasons you feel skeptical of, that we haven't had the Breeders' Cup for as long as it hasn't been here.”
As New York horsemen prepare to ship their finest stock to Santa Anita Park – the sun-splashed Arcadia, Calif., track is the venue for a record ninth time – some may do so grudgingly.
“Many of us in New York are discouraged that the Breeders' Cup is continually on the West Coast and we don't think it's a level playing field,” said Michael Dubb, a leading New York owner and a member of the NYRA board of directors. “Many of us are reluctant to ship our horses to the West Coast because of the disadvantage we're at.” Dubb, for instance, decided that Libby's Tail, a promising 2-year-old filly who was runner-up in the Grade 1 Frizette on Oct. 8, should stay home to spare her wear and tear.
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens will ship Grade 1 winners Effinex and Shaman Ghost for the Classic, but believes he will be at a disadvantage when they enter the starting gate to face some horses that call Santa Anita home. “To have it in California has to give them an edge,” he said. “Going from a colder climate to a hot one is a lot tougher than the other way around. I think it is kind of lopsided for California horsemen.”
The massive market that New York constitutes was initially viewed with such importance that the second Breeders' Cup was held at Aqueduct Racetrack in 1985, one year after the event debuted at now defunct Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif. With the action shifting to Belmont Park, New York provided the setting for the Breeders' Cup five times in the first 22 years. In 2005, the total handle of $140,332,198 set a record. The on-track handle of $14,742,521 at Belmont was the third highest at that time.
Some factors are readily apparent. The Breeders' Cup and other race schedules would have to be adjusted because what is now a two-day competition typically falls on the same weekend as the New York Marathon. There is not enough hotel space to comfortably accommodate both. The absence of track-side lighting and heat at Belmont Park are two more obstacles.
There would appear to be no issues that could not be resolved in order to bring a premier event to a critical fan base. But NYRA has been hard-pressed to get its house in order since Gov. Andrew Cuomo placed it under state control in 2012 following allegations that it charged a higher pari-mutuel takeout on exotic wagers than permitted by law. The 17-member NYRA board was reorganized to include 12 state appointees.
When Cuomo took this action, he pledged to return NYRA to privatization in three years. That timetable was not met, adding to the complexity of making long-range plans that would include much-needed capital improvements to Belmont Park.
Craig Fravel, president and chief executive officer of the Breeders' Cup, said conversations with NYRA are ongoing, if not substantive. “I think both of us have an interest in re-examining their interest and availability when the subject of re-privatization is complete,” he said.
Fravel added, “I suspect when they implement their long-term plans that a lot of issues will be addressed.”
Violette believes Breeders' Cup officials have failed a vital fan base. “To suggest that it is only that NYRA hasn't applied for it is pretty weak. I'm sorry,” he said. “It's disappointing that the Breeders' Cup doesn't consider New York an important location for their event and that, even if New York didn't reach out to them, that they wouldn't bang on the door and say, 'Hey, we've got to get together here.' I'm sorry. That is unacceptable as far as I'm concerned.
“It's like looking at the phone and waiting for somebody to dial you and standing on ceremony and letting NYRA come to you. Come on. Give me a break. Grow up.”
Mike Repole, another prominent owner, believes NYRA must bear much of the responsibility for the prolonged absence of the Breeders' Cup. “I think if NYRA did a better job of wanting the Breeders' Cup and fighting for the Breeders' Cup, they would have a chance of getting it,” Repole said. “I don't want to just blame the Breeders' Cup here.”
Christopher Kay, NYRA's chairman and chief executive officer, declined interview requests. He issued the following statement to the Paulick Report: “The Breeders' Cup is a signature event on the racing calendar and one that has continued to grow and evolve since NYRA last hosted at Belmont Park in 2005. There is no doubt that our passionate and knowledgeable fan base would support a return to New York in the future. While venue selection is set through 2019, we would look carefully at bringing the event back to New York when the time is right.”
Jim Gluckson, a spokesman for the Breeders' Cup, denied that the 2019 site – which will follow first-time host Del Mar in 2017 and Churchill Downs in 2018 – has been determined. He said an announcement is not likely to come until early next year.
It appears unlikely that NYRA can be in the mix as long as it remains under state control. Since all board meetings are currently a matter of public record, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to develop a strategy necessary to succeed in a competitive bidding process.
“Some of the things we might talk about routinely at a closed board meeting we just don't address,” Dubb said.
Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications.
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