The winter from Hell! Cold, wet, windy, snow, ice; colder, wetter, windier, more snow, more ice. And did I mention it was really cold? At Aqueduct, we had 16 full-card cancellations, and we lost part of another, all the result of the worst winter New York has experienced in more than 50 years. But the hardiness of those who worked through it and survived is not surprising. It’s what horsemen do. It’s their job.
The harshness of the weather has, however, led to the knee-jerk reaction in some camps that we need to put an end to winter racing. Those who have been opposed to winter racing for a long time are arguing for its elimination as if this historically bad season is the norm. They are exceptionally short-sighted.
To satisfy the naysayers, and for there to be any real money saved, NYRA would have to close down the entire backside at Aqueduct AND Belmont for 60 to 90 days. Every single horse would be gone and with them would go tens of thousands of full-time jobs. The effect would be devastating, not only for the workers, but for the communities, from the significant ancillary loss to local businesses – the delis, the gas stations, the grocery stores, the housing rentals, the restaurants, etc., etc., etc.
The cost to those businesses would pale in comparison to the catastrophic effect a winter shutdown would have on New York’s breeders. New York’s foal crop has grown for the last four years, defying the worldwide trend, but a significant cutback in racing opportunities for New York-breds would not only be financially damaging, but would cause material harm to the stability of the industry.
What would be better for New York racing – uncertainty about the future of winter racing, or a firm commitment to continuity, to providing an environment that cultivates long-term planning and investment, that encourages expansion and provides a basis for year-round employment?
The equine industry has a $4.2 billion economic impact on the state of New York. It is the second largest agribusiness, behind only dairy farming. We have an obligation to commit every resource available to making it safer, enhancing its integrity, increasing its appeal to fans and horseplayers alike.
The cold, hard truth? We want to make New York a better place to do business. We can’t let one unthinkably bad winter drive horsemen – dollars, and jobs – out of state.
Rick Violette Jr.