Mar 10, 2010

Saratoga: the Hialeah of the North?

VLT deal looks dead; NJ looks like a contender

Today's news delivers a double whammy to the New York horse racing industry (note: yes folks, that includes Saratoga). With the equivalent of a kick to the groin followed by another to the head, here's what we now know:

1) The VLT slots deal appears to be doing a quick crash and burn, as various players within the Aqueduct Entertainment Group (the recent designee to install the machines downstate) are abandoning ship, filing deadlines have been missed and accusations of high level political corruption continue to gain steam.

2) New Jersey racing authorities announced that the Monmouth summer meet -- whcih runs concurrently with Saratoga -- will offer a guaranteed $1,000,000 in daily purses; a significant sum that quickly surpasses those at the Spa.

First, about the slots: this recent nonsense will no doubt push the process back to Point A for the 100th time, dating back to something like the 12th century (BC). This ain't good, folks, as NYRA is backed up on the ropes with wobbly legs and ready to hit the canvas.

To those that think the Saratoga meet will always remain above the fray and immune from this "downstate" mess, I offer this comparison: who would have thought that Hialeah Park in Florida (the so-called 'Saratoga of the South') would end up running quarter horse races in front of 300 people a day? These are dangerous times and these problems do not seem to be geting the deserved local attention.

My question is this: why do we need a middleman (aka racino operator) for VLT's? Case in point: Saratoga Racing & Gambling elected not to renew its operator contract with Delaware Norht, and is now self managing the VLT operation. How about we cut right to the chase, and let NYRA do the same, or pick their own partner? With heavy supervision, of course, given their track record. Any real estate development deals are treated seperately and are between the State of New York (the owner of the land) and prosepctive developers.

What am I missing? Oh yeah, I forgot: it's that $300-$600 million upfront payment the state wants from the VLT operator. How silly of me. Scratch that thought, and fast forward us back to the brink of the canyon.

Regarding New Jersey: of interest here is the strategic decision that particular state is making in its vision for the future of racing there:

* Quality over quanity: the plan calls for fewer racing dates annually, and the closure of one of the two facilities; the Meadowlands in the Rutherford swamplands. In its place is a Monmouth meet high on competition and (no doubt) bigger crowds, handle and profits.

I have already spoken with horseman that have decided to shift their tacks to Monmoth this spring. Why not, given the sorry state of New York racing? Take note, New York, and look seriously at following the same model. After all, there is nothing more depressing than Aqueduct in February.

Except for quarter horses at Hialeah.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hialeah was arguably the most beautiful race track in the USA, right up there with Saratoga. I'll never forget my first drive down up the front entrance with the huge trees hanging overhead. It represented what Florda was all about in the 1960s. Pure majesty.

Your post had me getting caught up on Hialeah's more recent history. To now learn of its abandonment, of its near pysical collapse and all of its barns being leveled brings me near tears. The fact that it has now partially reopened temporarily with third rate racing provides no solace to this sentimental fool.

I pray to the heavens that Saratoga does not have a similar destination in its future. But as was said here, no one would have thought this could happen to that magical place called Hialeah, either.

God Bless