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Dennis Drazin Talks Eventful Monmouth Meet On Writers’ Room

Wed, 2021-06-16 19:41

While the 2021 meet at Monmouth Park is less than three weeks old, several years worth of drama has already been packed in at the Jersey Shore staple this spring, and Wednesday morning, the track's chairman and CEO Dennis Drazin joined the TDN Writers' Room presented by Keeneland to discuss it all. Calling in via Zoom as the Green Group Guest of the Week, Drazin talked about the fraught implementation of the New Jersey Racing Commission's whip ban, the latest attempt by the Jockeys' Guild to put pressure on Monmouth over it, the forthcoming experiment with fixed-odds wagering and more.

“I think it was a cheap shot on the part of the [Jockeys'] Guild to punish our jockeys that are riding at Monmouth Park for actions which were beyond their control and beyond Monmouth Park's control,” Drazin said of a Guild announcement that it will no longer insure Monmouth jockeys starting July 1. “About two years ago, there was a proposal for a rule change. The racing commission reached out to the industry to get some preliminary guidance. I remember very clearly going to the first meeting at Monmouth Park where the industry was invited by public notice. The Guild was there on behalf of the jockeys. As an attorney, I personally would have had a dozen jockeys in the first row to give their position on the rule and educate the commissioners. The Guild didn't do that. They didn't present any jockeys at those hearings. Now what they've done is punish riders for choosing to ride at Monmouth by taking away their coverages. I don't think that's the right course of action, and the Guild ought to think better of the actions that they took in writing that letter. I think they will receive notice from legal counsel. I think they're looking at litigation going forward if they continue this.”

While the first two weeks of the Monmouth meet were poor from a handle standpoint, likely in part due to rainy weather, the betting numbers improved drastically in its third week. Monmouth will have a chance to build on that momentum when it becomes the first major American track to implement a fixed-odds wagering system in the next month.

“We will definitely have fixed-odds wagering by the [July 17] Haskell because there is a pilot program right here right now that permits fixed-odds wagering on Grade I races as long as you conform to the Interstate Horse Racing Act,” Drazin explained. “It was offered on the Haskell in 2018 and 2019. The broader position, and this is something the whole country is looking at, is fixed-odds wagering is something we think is good for Thoroughbred racing and something that will be well received. But the racetracks around the country and the horsemen's groups that I have dialog with trying to study this, everybody's uncomfortable. Everybody tries to think, what's the right math? What's the right dollar amount, what's the right takeout? What's the impact of cannibalization? There are a lot of conversations going on trying to figure out how to do this correctly. And if everybody thinks about it forever and doesn't pull the trigger, we're never going to move it forward.”

Elsewhere on the show, which is also sponsored by West Point Thoroughbreds, the Minnesota Racehorse Engagement Project and Legacy Bloodstock, the writers reacted to the latest lawsuit from Bob Bafffert's legal team, broke down the Royal Ascot meeting from all angles and wondered what the news of The Stronach Group's potential sale of assets could mean for racing. Click here to watch the podcast; click here for the audio-only version or find it on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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NYRA Gains Approval in First Step to Add Tunnel at Belmont

Wed, 2021-06-16 19:36

The project that will ultimately lead to the construction of a tunnel to the Belmont Park infield and possibly the installation of an artificial surface at the track gained approval from the New York Racing Franchise Oversight Board Wednesday, according to the Daily Racing Form. The board approved the construction of a retaining wall on the backstretch, which would need to precede the tunnel's construction.

Beginning from a planned parking lot on Belmont's backstretch, the tunnel would lead to the track's infield, at approximately the location of the three-quarters pole. The tunnel would provide an access point for construction vehicles to facilitate work on the existing dirt and turf racing surfaces, as well as the potential installation of the artificial surface.

“It's, in essence, building a bridge to get to that 45 acres of land, including what could be community space,” NYRA chief executive David O'Rourke told DRF.

The project to build the tunnel would also require approval by the oversight board. NYRA officials said during the meeting that any projects for the infield area would be discussed at a later date. Construction on the tunnel is not expected to begin until 2022.

The Franchise Oversight Board also approved a project to construct a new building for the Racetrack Chaplaincy and a new health clinic at the track.

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Judge Gives Go-Ahead for Additional Testing of Medina Spirit Sample

Wed, 2021-06-16 19:13

Judge Thomas Wingate outlined the travel protocol to a New York lab Wednesday for the urine sample collected from Medina Spirit (Protonico) following his Kentucky Derby win last month, reported the Blood-Horse Wednesday. The Circuit Court Judge, who granted Amr Zedan's Zedan Racing and Bob Baffert the right to conduct further testing on the split sample, issued a temporary injunction Wednesday, outlining the flight plans, which will be funded by the plaintiffs. The judge, who stated that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission retain five milliliters of the sample, ordered at least two commission representatives to accompany the sample to the New York Drug Testing and Research Program in Ithaca, New York. The 3-year-old's connections believe additional testing will support their argument that Medina Spirit's Betamethasone positive stems from the administration of the topical ointment Otomax.

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Former Track President Submits Bid for Arlington

Wed, 2021-06-16 17:22

The future of Arlington Park remains very much up in the air, but Roy Arnold is convinced that racing can prosper there and is hopeful that he can spearhead an effort to insure that one of America's most beautiful racetracks remains a racetrack for years to come.

Arnold should know. He was the track's president during better times, from 2006-2010, and is currently the president and CEO of Endeavor Hotel Group. Arnold was instrumental in bringing together a consortium interested in purchasing Arlington Park from Churchill Downs. Churchill announced in February that it was putting the track up for sale and set Tuesday as a deadline to receive bids. Other than Arnold's group, it is not known who made bids and for how much.

“We have this iconic jewel which is known throughout the world and people are accepting as inevitable the fact that it's going to be bulldozed,” he said. “For the industry to stand by while that happens would be tragic.”

Endeavor sent out a press release Tuesday in which it said that it had joined forces with three other companies as well as “high net worth individuals.” The plan is to create a whole new Arlington, just one facet of what Arnold called a “diversified, four-seasons sports and entertainment district.” The foot print of the racetrack itself will be reduced and the land that is left over will be used to build an arena suitable for a minor league hockey team, a low-density housing development and a 60-acre industrial space. The ancillary businesses will create a revenue stream that will make it easier to justify keeping racing on the site. He also said that if the group takes over Arlington it will be able to offer sports wagering.

Arnold would not disclose how much his group bid, but was confident that it will be enough to secure a deal.

“We have the passion, we have the capital, we have the vision,” he said. “Now all we need is the opportunity. That started with our putting the bid in. Now we have to let the process unfold. We believe we will have one of the highest, if not the highest, bid.”

Arnold's group has the backing of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which has worked behind the scenes to find a potential buyer interested in maintaining racing. While Arnold realizes there are plenty of challenges operating a racetrack, especially one that does not receive revenue from a casino, in the modern era, but he said there's no reason why racing in Chicago can't succeed.

“People have concluded that absent subsidies this is a dead sport, that if you take away the supplements that go toward the major racing states that still have good programs that it would be difficult to see them continuing,” he said. “We can create a different model that will work. The fact is the track is profitable and can be profitable as a racetrack.”

Arnold foresees operating a “boutique” style meet that would be shorter than Arlington's current season. That will help with the purse level, currently a problem with Arlington offering some of the smallest purses in the sport. The plan also calls for lowering the takeout to make the product more attractive to bettors.

While Arnold and his partners believe an on-going racing operation at Arlington will work, it's clear that the bid also involves a desire to keep racing going at a track that has been around since 1927.

“There is for some reason an inability of some in the industry to understand that the demise of Arlington in America's third largest media market would be a catastrophe for the sport,” he said. “We are doing this because we have a passion for thoroughbred racing.”

But there's only so much that Arnold can do. Churchill Downs is under no obligation to accept their offer, even if it is the largest one submitted. WGN Television reported that there are fewer than 10 prospective buyers and that “a couple” of the bids came from groups interested in maintaining Arlington as a racetrack. WGN speculated that the Chicago Bears may be involved and may be interested in building a new stadium on the racetrack property.

In May, the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association urged the Illinois Attorney General to launch an antitrust probe of Churchill Downs, alleging it had taken steps to preclude casino gaming and diminish pari-mutuel wagering at Arlington. While Churchill never applied for a casino license for Arlington, it is heavily involved in gaming in the state and is said to be interested in opening new casinos.

Additionally, the Village of Arlington Heights approved an ordinance to prevent racetrack owner Churchill Downs from prohibiting any future buyer from continuing to operate the facility as a racetrack.

Is it in Churchill's best interests, politically, to sell the property to a group interested in keeping racing alive?

“Churchill has two ways of going,” said Mike Campbell, the president of the horsemen's group. “They can reject this offer, but if they do it brings up all sorts of issues about anti-trust allegations that are currently floating around that the Attorney General may be looking at. I know there is an effort among legislators to make that happen. Many legislators are very concerned about how this all came down. If I were Churchill, I would take a look at all that. They have other interests and bigger fish to fry in Illinois than eliminating horse racing at Arlington Park. I believe they might finally capitulate and allow this to happen for the single reason that have their eye on a casino in Waukegan and in the city of Chicago. It's up to them. The hard way or the easy way. It's their choice.”

The 2021 meet is set to conclude Sept. 25. Churchill has already said this will be the last ever meet at Arlington under their ownership. There's nothing to do between now and then but wait, and hope that Arlington is sold to a group that believes in the future of racing in Chicago.

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CHRB Meeting Highlights NorCal Race Dates

Wed, 2021-06-16 16:35

The June California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) meeting put to bed a problem that has been brewing for a few months in the North of California.

Due to the fallout from COVID-19, and the ongoing issues surrounding stabling and staff accommodation in the north of California, commissioners voted to switch the three-week State Fair–scheduled to run July 14 to Aug. 3 at Cal Expo–to Pleasanton to be run over a shortened window: July 14 through July 20.

Golden Gate Fields has also been allocated an additional two weeks of racing, to be run from July 21 to Aug. 3, with no residual compensation to the State Fair. Golden Gate will now remain open for training and stabling throughout the summer.

Fire plans at San Luis Rey Downs

Back in December of 2017, 46 horses died in the wildfire that engulfed the San Luis Rey Downs training facility.

In the aftermath of the fire, the Stronach Group (TSG), which owns the training center, built new barns kitted out with automatic sprinkler systems and a fire bell.

In order to issue a fire clearance, CHRB mandated TSG to retrofit the existing historic barns with similar sprinkler systems and fire alarms by July 31 of this year.

According to TSG, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a spanner in these works, the contractors responsible for the work either shut down or else short staffed, along with a shortage in necessary supplies.

According to Santa Anita Park general manager, Nate Newby, there are nine or 10 historic barns left to finish, plus additional buildings.

As such, TSG asked for an extension to the deadline, giving them until Jan. 31, 2022, to finish fitting out the historic barns, and until April 30, 2022, to complete the entire project.

Some of the commissioners voiced reservations about granting the extension without conditions attached.

“I'm a little concerned by this, as it's gone on so long,” said CHRB chair Dr. Greg Ferraro.

In the end, the board denied the extension on recommendation of revisiting the issue next month.

In the meantime, TSG must submit to the CHRB a detailed weekly work plan by the end of the month. Ferraro also mentioned that any extension would be incumbent upon TSG providing a progress report, possibly in September.

Fantasy Sports Wagering

One of the items opened a window into the future of wagering in the state. It concerns an intent by the California Association of Racing Fairs (CARF) to start offering fantasy sports wagering at licensed betting locations. At least 19 such facilities are slated to start offering the product, Golden State Fantasy Sports, this summer, barring any legal challenge in the interim.

Golden State Fantasy Sports is described as a “compliment” to the pari-mutuel industry, “and can be integrated into operators' existing infrastructure and tote system.”

Board members and CHRB staff expressed a variety of concerns surrounding these plans, however, many of which revolved around the issue of legality and regulatory oversight.

“It's unclear who would regulate this particular activity, if anyone,” said CHRB executive director, Scott Chaney.

As such, one of the issues raised revolved around the fact that CHRB-licensed pari-mutuel clerks would be the ones processing the bets. Another is that fantasy sports betting might “cannibalize” some of the wagering revenue intended for racing.

Ferraro also questioned how this development might potentially impact any pending legislation concerning legalized sports betting at licensed racetracks.

Chaney said that it's “unclear” how this might affect any such future legislation, and added that the next likely state-wide movement on sports betting would be through referendum.

All this aside, commissioners were largely in favor of the plans, adopting what is best described as a wait-and-see stance.

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NYRA Unveils New Hospitality Venues at Saratoga

Wed, 2021-06-16 14:45

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) announced three new hospitality areas at Saratoga Race Course set to debut during the upcoming 2021 summer meet. The Spa Verandas at the Top of The Stretch, Tailgate at the Turn picnic area and the newly expanded section of The Stretch will be available for the first time Opening Day, Thursday, July 15. Reservations for all three areas will be available beginning Thursday, June 24 at 10:00 a.m. at www.NYRA.com/Saratoga.

“As we prepare to welcome fans back to the Spa for the first time in two years, we are excited to introduce three additional areas where our guests can enjoy a day at Saratoga,” said NYRA Senior Director of Communications Pat McKenna. “The Spa Verandas and Tailgate at the Turn will undoubtedly be popular additions to our group hospitality offerings. And as one of our most in-demand destinations, the expansion of The Stretch will be met with equal enthusiasm. We look forward to the debut of these areas this summer.”

  • Spa Verandas at The Top of the Stretch – Modern amenities and casual setting with trackside views. Replaces the former Top of the Stretch reserved picnic areas with six new, partially covered sections offering a modern and casual outdoor experience. Designed to accommodate up to 45 guests each, the Spa Verandas will feature comfortable lounge furniture, mounted televisions, betting machines and private access to the track apron for rail side viewing (final turn). Each package comes with admission and programs. Food and beverage packages may be purchased separately.
  • Tailgate at the Turn Drive-up Picnic Area – Fans experience a day at the Spa from a casual atmosphere offering a unique vantage point of the first turn. The hospitality area will feature a total of 16 designated picnic areas where parties of up to six fans can drive up to their trackside reserved section overlooking the rail adjacent to the 1863 Club. Fans may bring in their own food and beverage. In addition to a private picnic table, fans in the Tailgate at the Turn area will enjoy a hospitality tent with large-screen televisions, betting machines and bar service. Each six-person section must be reserved in full.
  • The Stretch – Features 15 new lounge boxes – Feature an additional 15 lounge boxes located in Section T of the Grandstand. The private hospitality area–located at the Top of the Stretch–features upscale amenities in a casual environment with outstanding views of the final turn. Each lounge box seats four to six guests with comfortable bench seating and access to personal tablets. Ticket holders to The Stretch enjoy exclusive access to a full-service bar, kitchen and concessions, high-definition televisions and video screens, and private restrooms. Fans also enjoy a relaxed dress code at The Stretch.

The lifting of all COVID-19 protocols, including the requirement for fans to provide vaccination status, applies to all hospitality areas and venues within the facility, including these three new sections as well as the popular Saratoga backyard.

Non-vaccinated individuals will be required to wear a facial covering during their day at Saratoga Race Course, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.

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Arizona Downs Gives Fans a Shot at 100K

Wed, 2021-06-16 13:48

Arizona Downs will offer fans a chance at winning up to $100,000 with just one swing of a golf club. The contest will take place June 30, July 28 and Aug. 25. Sign up, available on contest days, is open to fans in attendance for the day's final race. Prior to that race, a golf strip will be stretched across the winner's circle, with a bucket placed 100 yards out. A total of 10 fans will be randomly selected from that day's entries–nine will get one shot with a pitching wedge to get a golf ball into the bucket for $10,000. A single fan will take a shot for $100,000.

“Together with our partners at Insurance Office of America, we thought it would be a lot of fun to offer this amazing opportunity to our fans,” said General Manager Mike Weiss. “It's always a great day to come out and enjoy an afternoon at the track, but it's a really great day when you can enjoy an afternoon at the track and walk home with $100,000.”

Live racing is held Tuesday and Wednesday through September.

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MHBA Elects 2021 Board of Directors

Wed, 2021-06-16 12:16

The Maryland Horse Breeders Association membership has selected two incumbent members, a 2019 presidential appointee and two new members to the 2021 Board of Directors. Those elected will serve for the next three years. Michael J. Harrison DVM, a presidential appointee to the board in 2009 to 2010 who has since served from 2011 to 2016 and as the president of the board from 2018 to 2020, and Christy Holden, a board member for the past three years and general manager of Country Life Farm, are this year's incumbents.

Also elected was George Adams, owner and manager of Housatonic Bloodstock, who was a presidential appointee to the MHBA board in 2019; Ann B. Jackson, owner of Foxharbor Farm in White Hall, who serves her first term; and Adair B. Stifel, co-owner with her parents of Mantua Farm, who also serves for the first time.

Of the five directors whose terms expired this year, David Wade and Kent Murray were ineligible to stand for reelection because of having served six consecutive years as a member of the MHBA Board. Those whose terms have not expired are Richard F. Blue Jr., Ellen M. Charles, Michael D. Golden DVM, Michael Horning, Louis Merryman, Sabrina Moore, A. Leonard Pineau VMD, William Reightler, Thomas J. Rooney and James B. Steele.

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Breeders’ Cup To Be Held At Full Seating Capacity at Del Mar

Wed, 2021-06-16 12:02

Breeders' Cup will utilize 100% of seated capacity at Del Mar for the 2021 Breeders' Cup World Championships. Tickets will go on sale to the public at Noon ET and 9 a.m. PT Friday, July 16. Available seating options and pricing can be viewed now at BreedersCup.com/tickets.

Del Mar is set to host the World Championships, one of Thoroughbred racing's most prestigious international events, for just the second time Nov. 5-6.

“After conducting the 2020 World Championships without fans in attendance, we are delighted to be able to safely welcome fans back to the Breeders' Cup World Championships this November,” said Breeders' Cup President and CEO Drew Fleming. “Fans will once again be invited to experience the unparalleled competition, fanfare and hospitality that have become synonymous with the Breeders' Cup as the world's most talented horses, jockeys, and trainers go head-to-head at beautiful Del Mar.”

Del Mar recently announced plans to conduct its 2021 summer race meet at 100% of seated capacity for fans throughout its facility in accordance with local state and county public health guidelines in Southern California.

Seating options for the 2021 Breeders' Cup World Championships include:

  • Premium dining: Fans can enjoy a fine-dining experience from the Clubhouse, Stretch Run or Paddock dining areas. Two-day dining packages are available for purchase ranging from $775 to $1,875 per seat.
  • Box seating: Patrons in box seats are offered cocktail service and menu options delivered directly to their seats in the Clubhouse and Stretch Run Box seat locations. Box seating options include both single and two-day packages ranging from $375 to $975 per seat.
  • Reserved seating: Fans can opt for open-air, covered, stadium-style seats. Reserved Seating is available in both single and two-day packages that range from $100 to $475 per seat.

General admission tickets will not be sold at this time. However, Breeders' Cup is closely coordinating with local health officials and is hopeful to be in a position to offer general admission closer to the World Championships. All tickets will be sold in advance of the event and are subject to the availability at the time of purchase. No tickets will be sold onsite.

In addition, all parking on-site at Del Mar will be limited and only available to those with official pre-paid parking credentials. To help enhance the transportation experience at Del Mar, Breeders' Cup will offer a park-and-ride program with complimentary public shuttle service to the track from two designated off-site park-and-ride locations on both racing days.

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Grooms, Hotwalkers Honored in New York

Wed, 2021-06-16 11:26

The New York Racing Association (NYRA) named a race for the New York Race Track Chaplaincy (NY Chaplaincy) Friday, June 4, allowing the organization to honor the groom and hotwalker who cared for the winning horse in that race. Trainer Bill's Mott's Aunt Kat (Uncle Mo) won, with Gustavo Solorio and Agripina Lara each receiving a trophy and a gift provided by the NY Chaplaincy as part of the winner's circle ceremony.

“These are the people who dedicate their lives to caring for Thoroughbreds and we are immensely grateful to NYRA for partnering with us to honor them in this manner, as they have done for many years,” said chaplain Humberto Chavez. “These individuals are rarely in the limelight and this ceremony, as well as similar tributes conducted at Aqueduct and Saratoga Race Course, is a real morale-booster.”

According to Chavez, approximately 800 stable workers live at Belmont Park and another 2,000 live off track.

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NTRA’s Alex Waldrop to Retire at End of 2021

Wed, 2021-06-16 11:11

National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) President and Chief Executive Officer Alex Waldrop will retire at the end of 2021. He has been at the forefront of the NTRA for 15 years.

During Waldrop's leadership, the NTRA transitioned from a member dues-driven organization into a self-sustaining, program-driven operation with more than 90% of the entity's revenues now derived from programs that support the industry. The organization also solidified its position as the industry's leading voice and the entity that represents all segments of the Thoroughbred industry in Washington, D.C., focusing its lobbying on legislation relating to horse racing, breeding and pari-mutuel wagering.

In addition, the NTRA under Waldrop worked to ensure that the industry was not left behind in 2020 as federal lawmakers crafted numerous important pieces of economic stimulus legislation tied to COVID-19 relief. Another major focus of the NTRA over the past two years was the ultimate passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA). The NTRA played a key role in bringing together various factions of the industry represented on the NTRA Board to find common ground in their support of HISA. In addition, the NTRA was crucial in the U.S. Treasury Department's formally adopted modernized regulations regarding the withholding and reporting of winning pari-mutuel wagers, which allowed horseplayers to retain more of their winnings and led to higher pari-mutuel handle.

“My decision to step down at the end of this year is driven by the knowledge that the NTRA is now financially strong and strategically well positioned to lead on key issues affecting Thoroughbred racing,” said Waldrop. “It's the right time for new leadership to take the reins and lead the organization in new and exciting directions. While I will truly miss my colleagues at the NTRA, I am certain they are prepared to meet the challenges ahead. I also have great confidence in the NTRA Board to lead the organization through this time of transition.”

Among Waldrop's other accomplishments during his tenure, he grew the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship from an event offering just over $500,000 in prize money to one that now offers purses and awards totaling nearly $4 million. In addition, the NTRA's group purchasing arm, NTRA Advantage, surpassed $1 billion in sales to the equine industry in 2019 and has provided nearly $200 million in savings to industry participants.

Waldrop has previously been president of Churchill Downs, where he led the effort to develop a master plan for renovation and modernization of the historic facility, and as chair of the equine, gaming, and entertainment practice group at the Kentucky-based law firm Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs. It was there that he served as the NTRA's general counsel before joining the organization full-time in his current role. Waldrop also serves as President of NTRA Horse PAC®, the Federal Political Action Committee of the NTRA that has raised more than $5 million through voluntary contributions to support political parties and candidates for elective office at the federal level.

“Alex was the right person at the time to lead the NTRA,” said Alan M. Foreman, chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (THA) and the NTRA's longest-serving director. “He stabilized the organization, refocused its mission and core functions and produced results that have and will continue to benefit our industry in the future. He led the organization's unparalleled achievements in Washington, from modernizing the law governing withholding of winnings to benefit our horseplayers, to tax reform for our breeders and owners, pandemic relief for all stakeholders and safety, health and welfare standards for our equine athletes. Most importantly, through his quiet but tireless leadership, he was able to bring consensus among competing industry stakeholders for the industry's best interests during challenging times. He deserves our gratitude and respect.”

The NTRA board of directors has begun a formal transition process and is conducting a search for Waldrop's successor.

 

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Saratoga to Open at 100% Capacity

Wed, 2021-06-16 11:03

Edited press release

After racing with no fans in 2020, Saratoga will open with 100% capacity in 2021, the New York Racing Association announced today.

With 70% of adult New Yorkers now vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Tuesday the immediate removal of COVID-19 protocols and restrictions for nearly all activities and industries, including outdoor sports and entertainment venues. Accordingly, NYRA will open all sections at Saratoga at 100%.

The lifting of all COVID-19 protocols, including the requirement for fans to provide vaccination status, applies to all hospitality areas and venues within the facility, including the popular Saratoga backyard, 1863 Club and The Stretch. Season admission passes, which provide access to the backyard, will be available for purchase and use without the prior requirement that fans provide proof of vaccination status.

“As New Yorkers collectively reach this major milestone in the fight against COVID-19, NYRA thanks Governor Cuomo for his leadership in achieving this goal and for the opportunity to welcome fans back to Saratoga this summer,” said NYRA President and CEO Dave O'Rourke. “This season will be a celebration like no other in Saratoga's long and storied history and we are thrilled to open the gates to the best fans in racing in just a few short weeks.”

As announced previously by Gov. Cuomo, all fans who show proof of vaccination via the New York State Excelsior Pass on opening day, July 15, will receive free grandstand general admission. Fans from outside New York State may redeem free admission by showing their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card.

NYRA is encouraging all fans who have been vaccinated in New York State to download the Excelsior Pass at https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/excelsior-pass.

Non-vaccinated individuals will be required to wear a facial covering during their day at Saratoga Race Course, in accordance with CDC guidance.

The Whitney Viewing Stand at the Oklahoma Training Track will also re-open Saturday, June 26, when members of the public are welcome to view morning training from 7-10 a.m. Prior to the opening of the summer meet July 15, the Whitney Viewing Stand will be open Saturdays and Sundays from 7-10 a.m. with access available via Gate 21 on East Ave.

Licensed owners will no longer be required to show proof of vaccination when entering the Saratoga Race Course property. Beginning June 24, family members and guests will be permitted to accompany licensed owners to view morning training and visit the barn area.

At Belmont Park, the lifting of COVID-19 protocols will allow for the full re-opening of the facility to fans. Beginning Thursday, June 24, walk up general admission will be available for $5 and the backyard picnic tables will once again be available on a first-come first-served basis.

Season and weekly ticket plans for the 2021 season at Saratoga are currently on-sale at NYRA.com/Saratoga. Group hospitality reservations are also currently available via email at boxoffice@nyrainc.com or by phone at (844) NYRA-TIX. Tables in the Festival Tent may be reserved via Ticketmaster.com.

Single-day tickets will go on sale Wednesday, June 23 at 10 a.m. at Ticketmaster.com.

Single-day dining reservations in the Turf Terrace, The Porch and Club Terrace will be accepted beginning Wednesday, June 30 at 10 a.m. at Ticketmaster.com.

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HISA Tabs Hank Zeitlin as Interim Executive Director

Wed, 2021-06-16 10:05

Edited Press Release

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority's (“the Authority”) board of directors announced that Henry “Hank” A. Zeitlin will serve as Interim Executive Director of the Authority through the remainder of 2021. The board reached this decision after interviewing multiple qualified candidates nominated by racing constituencies and interested parties. The Authority is also in the process of selecting an executive search firm to assist in undertaking a nationwide search for a permanent Executive Director to begin serving next year. Under Zeitlin's leadership, the Authority's anti-doping and medication control and racetrack safety standing committees will begin their work to establish uniform anti-doping, medication control, operational and accountability measures governing all 38 racing jurisdictions in the U.S. These proposed measures will be subject to the oversight and approval of the Federal Trade Commission.

“Hank Zeitlin's extensive background across multiple facets of the racing industry makes him an excellent addition to the Authority as we work toward a better and safer sport for all,” said Board Chair Charles Scheeler. “As we seek to engage both industry and external stakeholders for their insights and expertise on the various components of the racetrack safety and anti-doping and medication control programs, it is clear that Hank is the right fit for the role given his in-depth knowledge of the subject matter.”

Zeitlin currently serves as the executive vice president and a member of the board of directors at Thoroughbred Racing Associations, Inc., the trade association for racetracks in North America. He also serves as president and member of the board of directors of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, Inc., which provides integrity services for Thoroughbred racing and wagering. Previously, Zeitlin worked at Equibase for 18 years as Executive Vice President, then President. More recently, Zeitlin served as the chief facilitator for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's (NTRA) comprehensive update to and expansion of the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance's Code of Standards. His critical role in this effort involved leading three teams of experts in establishing best practices in anti-doping and medication control, racing safety and racetrack surface maintenance.

“I'm looking forward to being a part of this exceedingly important effort to develop industry-wide safety and integrity reforms at a time when those inside and outside the industry are looking for greater transparency, increased accountability and stronger enforcement mechanisms,” said Zeitlin. “We have a lot of work to do ahead of the July 2022 program effective date, but thanks to the excellent efforts of the nominating committee and the strong baseline standards laid out in HISA, we are hitting the ground running.”

“On behalf of the Authority, I'd like to thank Hank Zeitlin for agreeing to take on this role,” said vice chair of the board of directors and former Governor of Kentucky Steve Beshear. “An effort of this magnitude requires experienced and dedicated leadership at every level, starting at the top.”

Further questions and/or interview requests can be submitted to HISAuthorityUS@gmail.com.

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California Chrome Co-Owner Passes Away

Wed, 2021-06-16 09:48

Denise Martin, the co-owner of California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit), passed away June 14 at the age of 61. Martin and partners found the heights of success with the two-time Horse of the Year. The popular seven-time Grade I winner, whose victories included the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Dubai World Cup, currently stands in Japan.

Martin was the wife of Perry Martin, who also co-bred California Chrome. The couple split from their partners in the horse and founded Martin Racing in 2016, the same year California Chrome won his second Horse of the Year title. They have remained active in the horse business and recently won the GIII Steve Sexton Mile S. with homebred Mo Mosa (Uncle Mo).

“Denise greatly enjoyed interacting with racing fans, whether she communicated with them in person or through California Chrome's official social media channels,” said Perry Martin. “She also was solely responsible for all of Martin Racing's charitable giving endeavors.”

Martin was a chemist. She served as CEO of Martin Testing Labs in Sacramento from 2000 to 2020. She previously worked for the United States Air Force as a civilian employee at McClellan Air Force Base. The Martins were living in Wyoming at the time of her death.

Survived by her husband of 35 years, Martin also leaves behind her daughter, Kelly; her son, Perry, Jr.; and her brothers Andrew and Richard Brudniak.

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Returning Worker Exemption Acts Aims for H-2B Relief

Tue, 2021-06-15 18:01

New federal legislation has been introduced that, if passed, could prove a fillip for trainers struggling to find and hold on to immigrant grooms, hotwalkers and exercise riders in a labor market already squeezed thin.

The H-2B Returning Worker Exception Act of 2021, introduced Tuesday, is designed to “develop a long-term solution to permanently address” the annual H-2B visa cap.

According to the bill as currently written, it amends the definition of “returning worker” to include anyone who has entered the U.S. on an H-2B visa in any one of the three previous years.

Among other changes, the bill seeks to streamline the application process, requiring the Department of Labor to maintain a public online job registry. It would also implement new integrity measures and anti-fraud provisions.

It was co-authored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), David Joyce (R-OH), Bill Keating (D-MA) Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Steve Chabot (R-OH), and Andy Harris (R-MD).

The H-2B is arguably the most commonly requested visa for backstretch workers, and is awarded to seasonal “non-agricultural” workers like those in landscaping, hospitality sectors, the seafood industry and in some construction jobs.

The number of H-2Bs is capped at 66,000 annually, with an even split of 33,000 available for each half of the federal government's fiscal year. And while additional visas are frequently made available, they're not always enough to meet demand.

To help release a bit of steam from the system, congress has periodically enacted a returning worker provision, which permits those who had previously been in the U.S. on an H-2B visa–granted during a particular period–to be exempt from that cap.

For example, the last time this program went into effect–towards the end of Dec. 2015–the returning worker exemption permitted those who had previously held an H-2B visa issued between Oct. 2012 and Sept. 2015 to be cap-exempt for fiscal year 2016.

That exemption expired at the end of 2016 and has not been re-enacted since.

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Report: Stronach Group Considering Sale of Some Assets

Tue, 2021-06-15 17:43

According to a June 15 report from Bloomberg.com, The Stronach Group (TSG) has fielded interest from special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) and others and is exploring options for parts of its portfolio. The Bloomberg report cited “people with knowledge of the matter” as its source.

The Bloomberg report states that TSG is working with an outside advisor and has been approached by a number of parties, among them digital betting and media companies, that have expressed interest in aspects of the business. Bloomberg estimated the Stronach company portfolio is  worth more than $1.5 billion.

What remains unknown is what assets might be on the market and which are not. The Stronach Group, which is based in Aurora, Ontario, owns five Thoroughbred racetracks: Santa Anita, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, Laurel and Pimlico. According to Wikipedia, its other assets include AmTote International, Bowie Racetrack, Palm Meadows, Xpressbet, The Village at Gulfstream, a racetrack in Austria and the harness track Rosecroft Raceway. It also owns TrackNet Media, a horse racing content provider co-owned by Churchill Downs.

Though TSG may be looking only to sell some of its lesser assets, a potential sale of some others, namely Santa Anita and Gulfstream, could be a cause for concern for the racing industry. TSG has built a reputation as a pro-racing company and may view its assets differently than other companies, particularly casino or real estate companies.

In 2020 Stronach patriarch Frank Stronach and his daughter, Belinda, ended a battle for control of the company that had led to lawsuits. Under the agreement, Belinda got control of the Stronach Group's Thoroughbred racing and gaming businesses, while Frank and his wife, Elfriede Stronach, took over operation of the family's racing and breeding operations. As part of the deal, Frank Stronach relinquished any claims to the current assets that make up The Stronach Group.

As of deadline for this story, TSG Chief Executive, Racing Operations Craig Fravel had not replied to an email seeking comment. Bloomberg was also unsuccessful in its attempts to reach TSG executives for comment.

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Broodmare Dispersal Added to Fasig July; Additional Breeding Stock Entries to be Accepted

Tue, 2021-06-15 16:27

Fasig-Tipton has added a breeding stock section to its upcoming July sales in Lexington, Kentucky. The company will offer 18 mares as part of the Far From Over/Fountain of Youth Dispersal. All will be consigned by Stuart Morris.

The group of mares are property of a partnership supporting young stallion Far From Over (Blame). The 2015 GIII Withers S. winner had been standing at stud in California before suffering a pelvis injury early in the 2021 breeding season that took him out of service for the remainder of the year. The mares that had not yet been bred to him were shipped to Kentucky and bred to stallion there. Due to the circumstances, the partnership has opted to disperse all its of holdings.

All mares to be offered are in foal to Connect, Far From Over or Violence. They will be sold with their 2021 foals at their sides, which are by Catalina Cruiser, Enticed, Good Magic, Honor Code, Laoban, Oscar Performance, Violence and Yoshida. All foals are either Kentucky or California-bred.

With the addition of this dispersal, Fasig-Tipton will now accept additional approved broodmares and broodmare prospects. The dispersal and additional breeding stock entries will be offered in a separate session and catalogue–named July Breeding Stock–prior to the start of the July Selected Horses of Racing Age Sale on Monday, July 12.

Fasig-Tipton will accept breeding stock entries over the next few weeks. The catalogue will go online and in the equineline sales catalogue app July 1. Print catalogues will be available on-site at Fasig-Tipton at sale time.

“This dispersal offers buyers a quality group of mares, with well-bred foals at foot,” said Fasig-Tipton President Boyd Browning. “It also allows us to open up broodmare and broodmare prospect entries to other prospective sellers that may prefer to sell now, instead of waiting for the fall breeding stock sales. It creates a unique mid-summer buying opportunity for breeders.”

Browning continued: “We have considered adding a breeding stock element to July for many years, and this year's session will be a good barometer to see if there is viable market for broodmares in July going forward.”

The mares and foals will sell on Monday, July 12, prior to the start of the July Selected Horses of Racing Age Sale, which will also take place that day. The July Sale of Selected Yearlings will take place the following day.

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MJC Hopeful Horses Can Return to Laurel in August; Racing to Continue at Pimlico

Tue, 2021-06-15 11:56

Maryland Jockey Club and its parent company, 1/ST RACING (The Stronach Group), is hopeful horses will be able to return to Laurel Park the first week in August barring any delays in the ongoing renovation of the dirt surface, but even if they do, racing will likely continue at Pimlico Race Course in August until the Maryland State Fair at Timonium meet begins.

An update on the project and a timeline were discussed June 14 during a Zoom community meeting hosted by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. It was also announced that the Maryland Racing Commission had granted an extension of racing at Pimlico, if needed, through the end of what would have been the Laurel summer meet on Aug. 22. Timonium's first racing day is Aug. 27.

TSG Chief Operating Officer Aidan Butler said he's optimistic horses can being returning to Laurel Aug. 2, with training beginning Aug. 6. That depends on the weather, the supply chain for product, and material specifications, among other things.

“As most people are aware, things haven't gone as smoothly as possible,” Butler said. “The base is in worse shape than we anticipated but we are dedicated to doing this project right without cutting corners.”

Dennis Moore, the TSG Senior Track Superintendent who has been working on the Laurel Park project, said a French drainage system on the backstretch had been plugged up, which led to soft spots on a regular basis. The current project involves installing a new drainage system. In addition, there are issues with the grading of the surface in multiple locations.

“The [recent] rain has set us back a few days but we're moving forward,” Moore said. “We are trying to get it done by the first or second of August.”

“It's a mammoth job–way bigger than we originally anticipated,” Butler added.

The MJC Racing Office will write a four-week condition book for Pimlico through July 27, and then another four-week condition book for the remainder of the Laurel-at-Pimlico summer meet.

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TRF Chestnut Hill Ribbon-Cutting Tuesday

Mon, 2021-06-14 15:19

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and Oldham County Chamber of Commerce will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the TRF's newly minted sanctuary farm, Chestnut Hill, in Prospect, Kentucky, Tuesday beginning at 11 a.m.

Chestnut Hill is the permanent home of 11 horses from the organization's national herd of nearly 500 retired Thoroughbred racehorses. Located on nearly 30 acres of historic farmland in Oldham County and featuring a beautiful farmhouse restored to serve as an event venue, Chestnut Hall has been created for the express purpose of connecting Thoroughbred horses to the people of Louisville, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and beyond.  The farm is now open to the public for tours through Visit Horse Country and will be available as a unique venue for educational events and fundraisers for non-profits across the Louisville community.

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NBC Sports to Provide Royal Ascot Coverage

Mon, 2021-06-14 15:06

NBC Sports will provide live coverage of this week's Royal Ascot meeting, beginning Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. Daily telecasts of the full five-day Royal Meeting will air on NBCSN through Friday and conclude Saturday on NBC (9 a.m. ET) and CNBC (11 a.m. ET).

In total, NBC Sports will present nearly 25 hours of coverage over the five days.

This week's Royal Ascot meeting includes four “Breeders' Cup Challenge Series–Win and You're In” races: Tuesday's G1 Queen Anne S., Wednesday's G1 Prince of Wales's S., Thursday's G1 Norfolk S., and Saturday's G1 Diamond Jubilee S.

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