I never knew just how bright the light at the end of the tunnel was until Oct. 28, when Genting’s Resorts World New York Casino at Aqueduct finally opened. Virtually 10 years in the making, it turned out to be one of the few things actually worth the wait. There is no doubt the partnership between New York racing, Genting’s Mike Speller and the good people at Resorts World appears to be everything we could have wanted as we enter a new era. Although time will tell where things will level out, early revenue reports have exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. Owners racing in New York finally will have a real chance to make economic sense out of this great game that supports thousands and thousands of people. There is a 2,000-watt spotlight shining on New York racing, New York owners and New York breeders.
We are hoping the purse levels achieved by the summer, and certainly by Saratoga, will convince owners across the country to ask themselves, "Why wouldn’t we want to race our horses in New York?" They will be leaving too much money on the table racing anywhere else.
As the year goes on, the barn area will be full again; farms across the state, such as Sequel, are reopening; established Kentucky operations like Darley, Denali, WinStar and Vinery are starting new breeding ventures in New York; top new stallions have been added to the local rosters; and New York-breds are on short lists at every sale. From the racetrack to the breeding shed to the sales ring, and for all the supporting industries in between, the impact of the casino’s opening on jobs and revenue in the state of New York will be immeasurable.
The Resorts World casino is not the only positive news for New York horsemen from 2011. As you will read in this newsletter, we participated in two serious challenges against the federal government–one with the Department of Labor on indiscriminate changes in the wage rates for immigrant workers, and one with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on their arbitrary denials of H-2B visa applications for workers of New York trainers. We froze the Department of Labor in its tracks on the unwarranted and unsubstantiated changes in prevailing wage rates for temporary immigrant workers, and established new criteria for H-2B visas petitions for the temporary employment of legal immigrants.
Starting out, we weren’t sure how successful we would be taking on the Federal government, but with the help of our connections in D.C., the support of the NTRA and the hard work of attorneys Thomas Ragland and Ron Katiraei, we proved extremely effective.
Not all the issues of 2011 have been resolved. The battle over Lasix–also known as "raceday medication"–continues, and it might even get ugly. It is the horsemen’s position that eliminating Lasix without a reasoned and researched alternative therapy is irresponsible, and amounts to premeditated animal abuse. We have a number of physical issues with horses for which there is no remedy. It just doesn’t make sense to discard a safe and effective remedy for a physical issue that challenges most horses. This is a position we will staunchly defend, exhausting every option available to protect the welfare of the horse. There is little argument with the statement that what’s good for the horse is good for the industry.
Another issue we have focused on both locally and nationally is the institution of mandated contributions to support our athletes, the horses, when their racing days are over. In addition, we have been working on ways to produce new careers for retired racehorses. Back in August, we teamed up with Adele Einhorn, executive director of the Skidmore College Saratoga Classic Horse Show held on the grounds of Saratoga Racecourse, to try to establish a circuit of horse shows that include Thoroughbred-only divisions for the hunters and jumpers.
To that end, I attended the annual convention of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association in New Orleans at the beginning of December, and sat on a panel that discussed the best ways to get this done, from the creation of the Thoroughbred-only division to the concept of championships and year-end awards. The reception has been incredibly warm and encouraging, and we expect to have at least a dozen horse shows offering Thoroughbred-only divisions in 2012.
NYTHA’s presence on the NYRA capital improvement committee will enable us to keep up-to-date on the litany of projects made possible by the revenue from the casino. One of the first things on the agenda will be the building of a new dorm at Belmont that will be able to house 125 people. The dorm will be the model for future housing to follow.
Credit to Michael Dubb, who has been proactive in his handling of both the conceptualization and the planning of the new dorms.
That is on the front burner, but it is just one of the improvements that have been planned for the backside and the frontside during our discussions of the future of racing in New York.
Also included in significant discussions going forward will be ways to make New York the most industry-friendly environment in Thoroughbred racing. The topics of discussion will feature ideas to lower the cost of workers’ compensation insurance and, as always, we are looking for ways to expand the programs, both health and recreation, for backstretch workers. We already offer English as a Second Language classes, laptop computers that have Skype for video chats with family back home, and extracurricular activities that include basketball, bowling and soccer, and trips to the beach and to amusement parks. Anything that can improve the quality of life for those on the backstretch is a worthy endeavor.
On the heels of the recent election, we find ourselves with a great NYTHA Board of Directors, as new members Herb Oster and Rick Schosberg join the old guard. With the addition of Andy Belfiore and the continued services of Jim Gallagher, Dionne Johnson and Lee Buonagura, we plan to provide the NYTHA membership with the best service you’ve ever had from a horsemen’s group in New York.
All the best,
Rick Violette Jr.