As president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders, Vanderbilt was soon speaking up as forcefully as ever about what he felt to be the ills of racing. The NYRA having been in operation for half a dozen years, it was possible to assess its general philosophy toward racetrack operations, and Vanderbilt, who had been a trustee of NYRA from the start, thought he saw room for improvement. He began to hammer away at some of the points he had raised earlier and added some further suggestions.
"The economic squeeze is always a matter of concern to the horseman," Vanderbilt says, "just as it is to people involved in any business. One particular problem we face is the matter of entrance fees for the larger stakes races. You read all about these enormous purses, but in many cases the tracks are putting up only a fraction of the amount. Last year there was one 2-year-old purse which grossed $375,250, of which the track put up only $150,000, or less than half. The owners and breeders contributed the rest in nominating and starting fees. The next biggest purse was $273,530, and $148,530 of it was ours—well over half. I would like to see an agreement or a statement on the part of the racing associations to the effect that owners will never be required to put up more than half the total value of a purse. This is the kind of thing that the TOBA must concern itself with as forcefully as possible.
"I would also like to see an overhauling of the purse distribution. First, there should be a certain minimum percentage of the track's share of the mutuel handle that is paid out to the horsemen in purses. New York is low in this respect. [Aqueduct pays out the lowest percentage of any major track—35% last year. Tracks in New Jersey, Illinois and California pay more than 40%.]
"It should be noted," Vanderbilt continued, "that New York is lower than other states because New York has been unwilling to allow the racetracks an adequate share of the mutuel handle. Unless we get the additional 1% of the betting take that we seek, we will be faced with a nasty choice. If we are to rebuild Belmont Park—and rebuild it we must—we will not be able to keep up even our present purse distribution. If we don't rebuild Belmont, then the state runs the risk of forfeiting all racing revenue should some disaster close Aqueduct.
"A larger percentage of purse distribution should go into races for better horses. We also need a standard for better officiating. I believe that no one should be a steward at a track until he has served at least 100 days in some other racing capacity. Recently there was a case of a Chicago track making a steward out of a Florida newspaperman who had never watched a race from anyplace except the press box, and he had only been covering racing for four years. Someday he may be a very fine official, but at the time of his appointment he wasn't qualified.
"One of the finest things ever done for racing here in New York was the school for officials that Marshall Cassidy founded and ran for The Jockey Club. Over a several-week period, all the officials who attended this school had a chance to work in every capacity—stewards as patrol judges, judges in the stewards' stand and so on. It was a wonderful form of on-the-job training and good for everyone. But management was bothered by the idea that a $100-a-day man might be doing a $40-a-day job and vice versa. As a result, the school, a form of which still exists, is not nearly as effective as it once was—and could be again.
"The owners and breeders should be using their influence to correct and improve such situations as this. Through
, the association's weekly magazine, we have a sounding board, and we use it occasionally to get our position across. We have to fight constantly the things that pull racing down to nothing more than a gambling machine."
With Vanderbilt's interest in racing revived by his new responsibilities, he has also given fresh attention to his own racing fortunes. "I have had a lousy couple of years," he said recently, "but I brought this on myself by not spending more money for new blood and new broodmares. I only have 15 horses in training now, and none of them is much good except a pair of 2-year-olds that might work out. One of them, Seat of Honor, is a Citation colt that shows some promise.
"But I've got 17 yearlings down on the farm and 21 mares in foal. I've got Native Dancer, who is good for about 40 mares a year, and this next season I plan to raise his fee, which has been $7,500. This has been a good year for his 2-year-olds. Raise a Native, the Louis Wolfson colt, ran very well until his injury last week. Native Dancer also sired Audience, a 7-year-old gelding sprinter who is probably the only Thoroughbred in the country to have won 11 races already this year."
During the 30 years since Vanderbilt traded the campus for the paddock, racing has had no more intelligent and outspoken critic. There have been some bruised feelings, to be sure, particularly among members of the Establishment, but the net effect has almost always been salutary.