Dear Fellow New York Horseman:
Now that the excitement of the 140th Belmont Stakes is over, I want to take this moment and report to you on the positive work of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association during the past year and our efforts on your behalf.
At this time last year, the future of thoroughbred racing in New York was in serious jeopardy. NYRA was mired in a protracted and difficult bankruptcy proceeding that affected all of us, with competing groups seeking the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga. The implementation of VLT’s at Aqueduct and the benefits of such gaming in terms of increased purses and breeders awards, facilities enhancements and backstretch improvements seemed to be an elusive dream. NYTHA was deeply affected by the legal and political challenges. Indeed, the financial stability of our organization and our ability to fund the necessary backstretch health, welfare, educational and equine research programs was severely impacted as we sought to protect the horsemen’s interests in the bankruptcy proceeding. We have been confronted with challenges and difficulties, none of our own making, which no other horsemen’s organization has ever had to face.
I am pleased to inform you that the past year has been remarkable for NYTHA. We are strong once again, we are meeting the needs of our members and are working on your behalf to insure the future success of NYRA and thoroughbred racing in New York.
It has been my honor to serve as President of NYTHA during the past year. I think our most significant achievement was the hiring of Jim Gallagher as our Executive Director. Jim has spent a lifetime in racing, particularly in New York. He is respected both nationally and in New York, having worked with NYRA, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, the NTRA and the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. Jim loves working with us, is a constant presence on the backstretch, and is the face of NYTHA. He welcomes the opportunity to speak with you, so don’t hesitate to give him a call or visit with him.
With NYRA’s bankruptcy filing, we were forced to intervene to insure that the horsemen’s interests were protected. This was a costly, but absolutely necessary endeavor. In cooperation with our talented and effective legal team, we were able to protect $25 million in unpaid but accrued purse money that could have been lost had we not intervened. Through our work, the entire $25 million has been recovered and is now memorialized in the legislation that extended the racing franchise to NYRA. We have acted to protect and limit the accrual of allocated purse monies in each year going forward. Lastly, we have taken steps to insure that purse monies you earn and other monies that you place on deposit with NYRA are maintained as trust funds in a segregated and fully protected account.
We have been working tirelessly in Albany to bring the proposed “racino” at Aqueduct to reality and insure that thoroughbred racing and purses, in particular, benefit. This has been a very difficult process that has changed dramatically during the past 5 years. Our goal has been to insure that New York racing remains the preeminent product in the world, while bridging the gap between the costs of horse ownership and purses. The current legislation should generate an additional $30 million in purse enhancements when the VLT’s become operational and we will continue to fight for a greater share in the future.
Our health, welfare, education, recreation, and benevolent programs for our backstretch workers through funding to the Backstretch Employee Service Team (BEST), the Belmont Child Care Association (Anna’s House), the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, the Groom Development Program (ESL) have been re-established and are providing much needed support to those dedicated workers that give so much to make New York racing succeed.
We have continued our commitment to drug testing and research. During the past year, we have provided $50,000 to Dr. George Maylin, Director of the New York State Equine Drug Testing Program, for an administration study of anabolic steroids in horses and the development of a testing method for those agents in plasma (which currently does not exist). Dr. Maylin’s research will help to form the basis for the national testing protocols for anabolic steroid testing in plasma and the necessary withdrawal time guidelines when testing begins in earnest on January 1, 2009. We have also committed to assist Dr. Maylin in funding the purchase of the most scientifically advanced equipment to conduct testing for anabolic steroids and other drugs whose detection is difficult.
Finally, I want to recognize and commend the Board of Directors for the hard work and dedication during this difficult period. They are unpaid volunteers, who give of their time for the betterment and the best interests of New York horsemen and New York racing. They are – Linda Rice, Gary Contessa, Bill Discala, David Donk, Terry Finley, Pat Kelly, Kiaran McLaughlin, Michael Shanley, Bill Terrill and Steve Zorn. They have produced tangible and beneficial results on your behalf and deserve recognition. They have served you well.
We are beginning the process of our triennial election of directors for the Board of the NYTHA. We will hold a general membership meeting on Wednesday, July 9, 2008 at 5:30 p.m. at the Turf & Field Club on the 4th Floor of the Clubhouse at Belmont Park. In addition to other business, the report of the nominating committee will be announced at that meeting and nominations from the floor may be received. We invite you to participate in NYTHA at this critical time in our industry.
There are serious challenges confronting the racing industry as we speak. Economic disagreements, revenue sharing, negative wagering trends, the fallout of the Eight Belles tragedy, and the NYC-OTB crisis are consuming the racing industry. I am proud that New York racing continues to rise above the fray, while attempting to set a standard we can all be proud of.
All the best.
Richard A. Violette, Jr.