by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am

 By Ray Paulick

Santa Anita Park will be the focal point of the racing world on Friday and Saturday with the 25th running of the Breeders' Cup world championships, but that doesn't mean the rest of the nation's tracks have gone into hibernation for the week.

Take Suffolk Downs … please! But, seriously, the East Boston racetrack was packed to the gills on Sunday, and it was all for a good cause. Thousands of walkers took to the sandy loam racing surface to help fund scientific research and to increase autism awareness at the eighth annual Greater Boston Walk Now For Autism.

It was the second time the event was held at Suffolk Downs following the successful debut last year when more than $1.3 million was raised and 15,000 turned out to take a couple of laps around the one-mile track. All proceeds from the event benefit Autism Speaks, the nation's leading autism advocacy organization. A growing health crisis, autism is a complex brain disorder now affecting one in every 150 children by inhibiting their ability to commmunicate and develop social relationshiops, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges. A child is diagnosed with autism every 20 minutes.

Since becoming principal owner of Suffolk Downs last March, Richard Fields has elevated the profile of the track in both the racing and local communities through his support of events like Walk Now for Autism and the creation of a policy to prevent racehorses that compete at his track from being sent to slaughter.  Fields has been a welcome and positive addition to the industry.

IT MIGHT BE A STRETCH TO SAY THAT BELMONT PARK WILL BE JUMPING ON WEDNESDAY, since the term “weekday crowds” there is an oxymoron. But a $1-million pick six carryover is going to put Belmont in the spotlight among the nation's horseplayers, who figure to pump as much as $3 million more into the pool. That's what happened back on June 11 during the spring-summer meeting when a $1-million-plus carryover resulted in a final pool of $4.4 million. There were 29 winning tickets that day (each worth $103,754), none of them purchased on-track at Belmont Park.

The good news for the New York Racing Association during Belmont Park's final week follows the bad news for local horsemen, who learned of 10% purse cuts at the upcoming Aqueduct meeting, and for a number of full-time employees, who were laid off. The carryover is not good news for Breeders' Cup officials who would rather see horseplayers hold onto their bankrolls until Friday, when the two-day world championships begin at Santa Anita.

A GOOD HORSEKEEPING SEAL OF APPROVAL … is that really all the enforcement strength the National Thoroughbred Racing Association can muster with its Safety and Integrity Alliance? If so, last week's announcement of proposed wide-ranging reforms by the NTRA only reinforces the need for some form of federal intervention to create national standards for the racing industry.

In a press teleconference that included former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, whose Washington law firm has been hired to independently monitor the reform movement's progress, NTRA president and CEO Alex Waldrop called the Alliance a “voluntary” organization. He suggested tracks that don't conform to the Alliance's Code of Conduct may be considered pariahs by horseplayers, who will bet their money at tracks that do comply. Waldrop also failed to substantively answer any questions about how the industry will pay for the reforms, even going so far as to say the NTRA has no idea how much the reforms will cost.
Click here to read the teleconference transcripts.

Good work was done by the Alliance and the many people who worked on the sensible and much needed reforms, but the fundamental flaw that has derailed so many prior industry initiatives still remains: the lack of a central authority with real enforcement powers. Oaklawn Park and Tampa Bay Downs, two tracks that did not join the Alliance, can't be forced into the Alliance, and I seriously doubt their future success or failure will be a byproduct of their membership status.

Structure remains an impediment to serious progress in this industry. Until there is a structure that includes a national office with real enforcement and decision-making capabilities, volunteer organizations are doomed to fail.

HALSEY MINOR IS NOT GIVING UP ON HIALEAH PARK. Just because the technology entrepreneur
has shifted his attention to MI Developments, the controlling shareholder of the near-bankrupt racetrack company Magna Entertainment, doesn't mean he's taken his eye off Hialeah Park, the dormant South Florida track he wants to buy.

Minor told the Paulick Report he intends to legally challenge the city of Hialeah's right to turn over the deed for Hialeah Park to John Brunetti four years ago at the end of a 30-year lease agreement between Hialeah and Brunetti. Minor contends that Brunetti failed to live up to the terms of the lease by failing to offer live racing, not holding a pari-mutuel license and falling behind in his payments to the city. Minor thinks the city of Hialeah should enforce an
eminent domain claim on the land. If not, he said he has a team of lawyers ready to strike.

BREEDERS' CUP OFFICIALS COULDN'T FORESEE THE FINANCIAL CRISIS that has many people cutting their discretionary spending, and there is no doubt the troubled economy will lower expectations for business this weekend. But long before the Wall Street meltdown, it was obvious to many people the inflated ticket prices and insistence on a two-day ticket package was a mistake. Now they are scrambling to sell reserved seats for the world championships. A quick check of online ticket brokers shows seats are available for Friday's program at prices less than half of face value. The Breeders' Cup should go back to the drawing board on their ticket pricing for 2009. It may the “Super Bowl of Horse Racing,” but it's not the Super Bowl.

Copyright © 2008, The Paulick Report

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