OZONE PARK, N.Y. – The specter of the New York Racing Association being in charge of Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga for another 25 years was greeted by a mixture of relief and tempered enthusiasm by horsemen.
Horsemen were naturally relieved that racing will continue uninterrupted under a franchise deal agreed to Wednesday, but many said they thought this was only the first step in restoring New York racing to national prominence and that there is more work to be done.
"We got it, let’s do the right thing with it to keep the future of New York racing respectable," trainer Rick Schosberg said. "We need to gain the respect back. I think we lost a little bit of respect over the years, and we need to get back to being the forefront of the racing world."
Though the franchise agreement enables NYRA to continue to operate racing at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga through 2033, the bill did not name an operator of a slots project at Aqueduct, nor legalize slots at Belmont Park or broach the subject of a merger between New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. and NYRA.
"There’s going to be a continuation of racing for 25 years; the racing body is in place, now we have gotten through the first part of the triathlon," said trainer Rick Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. "It’s a new beginning, but we still have a lot work in front of us."
Horsemen offered different views on what the priorities should be for NYRA.
"S-L-O-T-S," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said when asked what he’d like to see happen for New York racing. "I don’t care where and when. It’s a big chance to bring in a lot of revenue for the racing world. From there, we’re going to get improvements on the backstretch. The racing is great, it’s only going to get better or stay up to the standards that we’ve all come accustomed to."
Richard Dutrow Jr. said of NYRA: "I hope they do a better job than they’ve been doing. New York racing could be run a lot better than it’s being run right now. They need to straighten a whole lot of things out. I hope they do."
Dutrow, who is based at Aqueduct, said he has been dissatisfied with the maintenance of the tracks and the barn area.
"Tracks are important, they’re not being properly taken care of," Dutrow said. "I have to mention that. I don’t care anything about the racing office stuff, the advertising they do, it doesn’t mean anything to me. The maintenance of the tracks are absolutely ridiculous. It takes a week to get a light bulb fixed."
Trainer David Donk said: "The biggest issue on the backside is new dormitories for the employees. Those are things that need to be addressed."
Donk said NYRA also needs to make a concerted effort to improve customer relations.
"My No. 1 concern is customer service, whether that’s the $2 bettor, the big gambler, every racing fan, owners, trainers, backside personnel," said Donk, who suggested NYRA could learn a thing or two from other entertainment venues. "Last year, I took my kids to Disney World and thought, Why can’t a racetrack be run like this?"
During the lengthy franchise process, some horsemen became affiliated with groups that were bidding for the franchise against NYRA. At one point, the horsemen’s association had publicly supported Empire Racing before withdrawing from that group last summer.
Violette said he did not expect any repercussions from the horsemen’s relationship with Empire.
"That’s long-time water under the bridge," Violette said. "They’d be short-sighted if they tried something like that."
Violette clashed with NYRA over several issues during the franchise process but said he doesn’t expect any problems.
"There’s no animosity, no venom," he said. "It’s not personal, it’s business. I think that the personalities have been taken out of it. It’s understood that it’s business and that we can go and have a cup of coffee after any discussion."
Added Donk: "Now we need to move forward and all of us do a better job for the sport. No question, New York’s the leader. Let’s act like it."