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New York Racing’s Rally for Jobs – And Community

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The rally at Belmont Park on Sunday afternoon wasn’t about horses. It wasn’t about gambling. It wasn’t about fair labor, or working conditions, or any of the usual suspects that incite workers’ rallies.

It was about the continued survival of a community.

Tens of thousands jobs are on the line, and as New  Jersey’s forward-thinking purse initiatives move to make the same sports thefts that have taken New York sports franchises in the past, Albany continues to refuse to make good upon a nine-year-old promise to assign an operator for the much-maligned, sadly hypothetical racino at Aqueduct.

The crowd gathered on the brick apron of Belmont Park, near the finish line of the third leg of the Triple Crown, was as diverse a group as any random population on a crowded city street. It was the eclectic mix that sums up racing life – all classes, clothing, countries. . . hotwalkers, grooms, riders, trainers, breeders. Urban and rural groups together, asking the government for the same thing – and shouldn’t have that made the decision easy? So why has the Aqueduct racino dragged on for nearly a decade, with no end in sight?

There were children in strollers, playing in the grass, bouncing balloons. There were well-dressed owners and trainers with their families. There were state legislators, community leaders, and racing association directors. Many of these people would only have come together because of the incredible diversity of the Thoroughbred industry. They represent in their diversity the many communities that they support.

As the Long Island Railroad trains rattled by beyond the backstretch and the airplanes slowly slid over on their approach to JFK, Matthew Veitch, county supervisor from Saratoga, reminded the crowd that the VLT issues were not strictly an urban, racing plant problem, “not an upstate, downstate problem,” but a whole state issue. Even as letting New York racing fade costs the state millions of dollars, he pointed out, it causes racing to lose both the purses and prestige that have made New York the horseman’s choice for a century and a half.

It also means that upstate, New York’s richest agribusiness is flailing. Joe McMahon (McMahon of Saratoga), spoke of mares bred declining by more than half. Yes, this means few New York-breds competing in three years. It also means that only half of the jobs in the breeding industry and the communities surrounding them will be available in the coming years. Diminished breeding means out of work grooms, blacksmiths, veterinarians, feed dealers, trainers, watchmen. Out-of-work people mean grocers, dry cleaners, restauranteurs, doctors, plumbers get less business. Children eat less, even go hungry. They fail at school. They drop out before they graduate. Generations slip under. When industries are allowed to fail, communities fail.

How many communities will fail if the Thoroughbred industry, from the upstate farms and the brief summers of hospitality at Saratoga, to New York City’s cast of thousands who support the city tracks, to the tens of thousands who depend on these workers’ patronage – how many communities will simply collapse?

All for want of a simple solution that was already promised to the horsemen and workers of New York? A relatively simple system, the development of a racino at a free-standing structure, complete with public transportation, in the nation’s most densely populated urban corridor – they managed it in Louisiana. It is shocking that they can’t manage something so basic in New York.

Rick Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemens’ Association, expressed the fear and frustration of the communities at risk best with his one simple solution: to put the governor and the parties responsible for selecting a VLT in a locked room and to not let them out until a deal has been agreed upon.

The theme of the day was community. The chant of the day was “Real people, real jobs.” The mood of the day was frustration, with an undercurrent of worry, even fear. Real lives, entire communities at stake. And nothing for it but to stand together in one place, and shout, and hope that someone in charge is listening. It isn’t a bad practice; revolutions have been started and been won this way for centuries. The only question is, how many will shout, how loudly, and will it be soon enough to save New York’s racing community and heritage?

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2 Responses

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  1. Boy, I hear that! KY is in the same boat, only the sleazy politicians haven’t promised anything…

    Barb Fulbright

    March 21, 2010 at 5:11 pm

  2. I’ve been wondering/worrying about this for some time. Trickling down of shrinking economies.

    Scary, scary times for everybody, as we wait for that other shoe to drop.

    I hope something good comes from the shouting.

    Voices need heard, will they listen?
    Hoping for ya, NY TB Horses.

    GoLightly

    March 21, 2010 at 9:06 pm


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