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New York Seizes Control of Horse-Racing Board

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New York Seizes Control of Horse-Racing Board

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York took control of horse racing in the state on Tuesday, announcing that he was creating a new board to replace the New York Racing Association in hopes of reforming a scandal-plagued industry that generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the state.

The New York Racing Association agreed to the arrangement that will place it under the control of government appointees for three years.

The colt I’ll Have Another is already in New York readying for his bid to win the Belmont Stakes on June 9 and become just the 12th Triple Crown champion, and the first since Affirmed in 1978. He has arrived at a time when the racing association is in disarray after a series of equine deaths at its racetracks, missteps by its management and formal investigations into both.

Mr. Cuomo, at a news conference to announce the state’s action, said the timing had nothing do with the Belmont Stakes, but that it was urgent to address an imperiled horse-racing industry that has become increasingly reliant on the income drawn from a relatively recent arrival at the racetrack: casinos with hundreds of video slot machines.

He said NYRA — the quasi-public agency that oversees the operations of tracks at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga — had “never really worked” since its inception in the 1950s and cited decades of scandal, bankruptcy proceedings and a previous state financial bailout.

Last week, the association’s payments from the recently opened casino at Aqueduct were suspended in the wake of the firing of Charles Hayward, NYRA’s chief executive, and Patrick Kehoe, its general counsel. State authorities had found that the association, with the knowledge of its senior executives, had improperly shortchanged bettors of millions of dollars.

The new board appointed by Mr. Cuomo is charged with examining the role of drugs in horse racing and in the health and safety of horses and jockeys. This season at Aqueduct, the first to unfold with higher purses made possible by the casino revenue, saw a dramatic spike in the number of breakdowns and fatalities of horses. The number of fatalities at Aqueduct doubled after the casino opened in late October. Last month, a computer analysis by The New York Times showed that horses have broken down or shown signs of injury at a rate of 10.2 per thousand starts at the track, or double the national rate for thoroughbred racing.

In many cases, records showed that horses had been injected with multiple anti-inflammatories and painkillers in the days and weeks before they raced in pursuit of increased slots-fueled purses. The New York State Racing & Wagering Board subsequently limited the size of the purses offered in races involving cheaper and potentially less sound horses.

Mr. Cuomo’s decision to seize control of the industry in New York comes as racing is facing Congressional investigations, and amid calls from the ranks of respected owners and trainers to seriously reform the way racing polices drug use at the track. To many, the enactment and enforcement of tough and safe drug policies in the sport is both fractured and feeble.

Racing in New York will now be overseen by a board dominated by appointees of the governor and senior state legislators. But Mr. Cuomo stressed that the state takeover was designed to be short-lived, and last no longer than three years.

“We know that long term this is not a venture for government to run,” Mr. Cuomo said.

The Senate majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, said: “The NYRA reorganization board will put in place new leadership to ensure that bettors and taxpayers are treated fairly and honestly. We will continue working together with the governor and NYRA so New York State remains a leading home for horse racing.”

The assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, said, “It is important to maintain the integrity of the sport so that those who come out to enjoy these events are not shortchanged or treated unfairly.”

The current NYRA board will be dissolved. It is unclear whether any existing members will be part of the new leadership.

Once appointed, the new board will conduct a national search for new senior management.

“The NYRA reorganization board will help ensure that racing in New York has a strong and stable future as the gaming and racing industry evolves,” the NYRA chairman C. Steven Duncker said. “I thank the members of the current NYRA board for supporting the changes announced today and together we will work to ensure a smooth transition and bright future for New York racing.”

Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting from Albany.

Source: The New York Times

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