Racing opens at Saratoga amid scrutiny, tumult
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) - The New York Racing Association launches its showcase meeting Friday at Saratoga Race Course against a backdrop that includes congressional scrutiny of racing's medication rules and practices, internal struggles and a looming state takeover of its management,
With current management and a board of trustees in place only temporarily, the 144th season of racing at the nation's oldest thoroughbred venue will not see the stars of the Triple Crown series compete during the 40-day stand. It will, however, offer unprecedented purses fueled by revenue generated by a casino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.
Since opening late last year, the casino at Aqueduct, Resorts World New York City, has surpassed all U.S. racetrack-based gaming facilities in revenue. As a result, with 6.7 percent of casino revenue contributed to purses, average daily distribution at Saratoga will approach $1 million, the largest in history at an extended race meeting.
State officials recently announced a three-year takeover of NYRA after accounting irregularities were revealed that resulted in $8.5 million not being returned to bettors. Two executives, president Charles Hayward and chief legal counsel Patrick Kehoe, were fired, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo subsequently introduced legislation creating a structure that will staff the board of trustees with state appointees. Cuomo will select the next chairman.
Those appointments, however, have been put off until after the prestigious Saratoga meeting. Eventually, the governor will appoint eight board members to the unpaid positions, while leaders of the state Assembly and Senate each will each appoint two.
The meet opens eight days after a hearing convened by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to gather testimony about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in racing prompted by several documented recent violations, primarily at tracks in the Southwest.
The congressional scrutiny also follows claims that Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another raced hurt during the Triple Crown series. These charges have been denied by the horse's connections and challenged by prominent members of the veterinary community.
I'll Have Another was aiming to become the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978 but pulled out of the Belmont Stakes the day before the race with a tendon injury and was retired to stud.
Lucrative purses have lured most of the nation's top stables to upstate New York, but neither I'll Have Another nor Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags will race here. Union Rags, who suffers from a minor ligament injury to his left foreleg, will miss the remainder of the season, leaving the meet's centerpiece, the $1 million Travers Stakes on Aug. 25, to lesser-known 3-year-olds.
Bodemeister, the narrowly beaten runner-up in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, is expected to race in the Travers.
Fifty-four stakes races will be run, including several that are important destinations for the leaders of various divisions.
Leading figures in the 3-year-old filly division are expected for Saturday's Coaching Club American Oaks and the Aug. 18 Alabama Stakes.
The Aug. 4 Whitney Invitational and Sept. 1 Woodward Stakes, which propelled Rachel Alexandra in 2009 and Havre de Grace in 2011 to Horse of the Year titles, are important objectives for older horses.