HRU Feedback (2017-04-23)

Grave concerns over change in stewardship of NYSS

As standardbred horsemen that participate in the New York Sire Stakes (NYSS) program we have very real reason for concern.

The Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding and Development Fund, which oversees monies used to administer the NYSS, is on the verge of replacing the Harness Horse Breeders of New York (HHBNYS) with the Albany based firm, Capitol Hill Management Services Inc. The President of Capitol Hill Management Services Inc. is John Graziano Jr., a politically appointed trustee on the New York Thoroughbred Breeding Development Fund as well as a registered lobbyist.

For the past 50 years, since 1967 and the inception of the New York Sire Stakes program, the HHBNYS have been the administrative arm of the program. Handling the processing of NYSS eligibility payments, eligibility lists, the residency mare program, stallion registry, breeders rewards program, mares bred reports, shipped semen records, NYSS points records and purse breakdowns. The HHBNYS also provides for representation at NYSS race draws and representation at most NYSS racing events, as well as management of an industry website which tracks daily changes in the points based system for all divisions of Sire Stakes, Excelsior and County Fair events. The HHBNYS provides this service with a staff headed by Betty Holt and two office employees. Their projected budget for 2017 was to be $157,500.

Conversely, Capitol Hill Management Services Inc. has submitted a working budget of $48,500 to administer this same program for 2017. With this bid, the New York Sire Stakes program will be one of 300 clients of this firm.

As horsemen that are invested and interested in the future welfare of the New York program, we have several grave concerns with the direction in which the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding and Development Fund is steering us.

Prior to this year, the bylaws governing the administration of the management and integrity of the NYSS program has always contained a “lobbying clause” in each and every contract between the HHBNYS and the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund.


1. Political Activity. Funds provided pursuant to this Agreement shall not be used for any partisan political activity, or for activities that may influence legislation or the election or defeat of any candidate for public office.

Based on Capitol Hill Management Services Inc. connection with political lobbying, we find it very curious that this language was removed from the contract this year. Further, we feel this proposed arrangement with Capitol Hill Management Services should not proceed until its officers and the officers of the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding and Development Fund explain, publicly under oath, why the so called “lobbying clause” in the agreement was deleted this year after being a part of the contract for so many previous years. Did Capitol Hill Management Services lobby for the change in the contract knowing that it would benefit from it? Did the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding and Development Fund members who approved the change receive some sort of benefit for deleting the clause? At a minimum the timing of the change in the proposed agreement and a lobbyist’s push for the work, raise profound questions of ethics and propriety that must be answered for industry participants- owners, trainers, drivers, breeders, etc. — to have any measure of confidence that the proposed new agreement isn’t some sort of “sweetheart” deal.

Another requirement clause in the contract calls for the successful bidder to have a minimum of two years of experience in the scope of work required. The successful bidder must have demonstrated knowledge of competitive equine racing programs that include point standings.
While John Graziano Jr. may have some knowledge of thoroughbred racing, we argue it doesn’t make him necessarily experienced in tracking and administering a NYSS points-based system program that involves multiple categories of sex and gait. NY thoroughbred racing does not have a like format. In fact, no argument can be made that Capitol Hill Management Services has the requisite training under the rules. Nor has Capitol Hill Management Services publicly explained how it is going to do the same job or a better job of administering the program for one-third the cost, a difference that is so great as to raise questions about whether it is even possible for the scope of work to be performed at a level to which the industry has become accustomed. At a minimum, Capitol Hill Management Services should be required to publicly and precisely disclose how it intends to do the work. Which people, specifically, will be involved and what is their knowledge? What will be the scope of their work?

As experienced horsemen that have worked for years with the HHBNYS, we know full well the depth of work involved and hours of commitment needed to provide the excellence in service required to fulfil the needs of this program.

Each day, there are a myriad of issues, be it breeding, racing or otherwise that must be addressed by experienced and confident personnel.

Race draw oversight, coupled entries and eligibility issues are regular issues that need professional and seasoned people to oversee and implement a successful and orderly program. As participants in the New York Sire Stakes program we rely on the ease of communication between horsemen and the HHBNYS to help answer and sort sometimes difficult interpretations of bylaws. Often times needing answers at odd hours of the day, weekday or weekend. These are circumstances that are often unpredictable but in need of immediate attention and direction. These are issues that we have historically relied upon the HHBNYS to respond to and handle with confidence.

Everyone wants to keep costs down, but the suspicious manner in which the contract was changed and they way in which the new group seeks to proceed, raises fundamental questions that must be cleared before the HHBNYS is replaced. We realize that the HHBNYS has not always perfectly administered the program but it has done so consistently in a way that has earned it the trust and respect of virtually every participant in the NYSS program. The HHBNYS deserves better than to be cast aside in this manner.

As investors and participants in the New York Sire Stakes program we are outraged and dismayed with the current direction of the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding and Development Fund. This is not the type of leadership we can endorse or accept.

The Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding and Development Fund has a planned meeting scheduled for April 27, at which time they are expected to “rubber stamp” their approval of Capitol Hill Management Services Inc. as the new administrative arm of OUR New York Sire Stakes program.
We suggest that fellow horseman that feel similarly with us, contact the members of the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding and Development Fund directly to express your like disdain.
Ronald Ochrym, Agricultural Fund Acting Executive Director, 518-388-0178;
Peter Arrigenna, NYS Horse Breeding Development Fund Trustee, 585-721-4869;
Mike Kimleman, NYSS Horse Breeding Development Fund Trustee, 845-249-5693;
Richard Ball, Commissioner of Ag and Markets, 518-457-8876

Time is of the essence people. Please make the call or send an email now. Let’s keep control on how OUR New York Sire Stakes program is administered.

Respectfully submitted,
Paul Kelley
Linda Toscano
Ken Jacobs
Steve Jones
Ray Schnittker
George Ducharme
Jeff Gregory
Wanda Polisseni
Joe Faraldo, Pres. SOA of NY

Buzz off, Buzzy

I’ll be atypically brief:

Jogging, training, feed, antibiotics and whatever else was mentioned (full letter here)

Strangely Buzzy, YOU failed to mention that skid mark in your underwear, Josh Marks.

What happened, Buzzy, did you forget?

Not refuting THAT part of the article: Your silence is deafening..

— Vic Dante / North Caldwell, NJ

Nice deflection, Buzzy

Nice deflection letter by Sholty (full letter here).

He conveniently forgot to mention that Gural’s text said: “Sholty was fronting for (banned trainer) Josh Marks.”

— J.E.Smith / Vero Beach, FL

Northfield could do better

You need to give slots people betting vouchers and have people showing new patrons how to bet. I saw two well-dressed males come in at Northfield and buy forms and ask the clerk how to read and bet. She told them see the mutual clerk. They looked at each other and left.

You also need to go to local colleges and give betting vouchers and free beer tickets.

You don’t have to pay $3 million dollars for advertising.

— Pierre Brault Wickliffe / Walton Hills, OH

Harness racing has much to learn from W.W.E.

A couple of weeks ago Steve Ross referred to there being 100,000 people that attended Wrestlemania, known as a “fake” production (2017-04-09 Feedback).

He then stated that the fans cannot be concerned too much about “integrity” since the product is “fake.” He also compared takeout to the overpriced refreshments sold at Wrestlemania.

First and foremost, there is no integrity issue with the W.W.E., because they are very open that the outcomes of the matches are pre-determined. They are very open that everything is a part of a story line and that their product is sports “entertainment.” There is not a single W.W.E. fan that is being “duped” because they believe the wrestling matches are real from a result-standpoint. But, if you believe it to be a fake, I would suggest trying some of the moves these athletes perform and find out just how fake it is.

Secondly, when a W.W.E. superstar has a positive test for a performance enhancing substance that superstar is suspended for an extended period of time and his/her contract is terminated upon the third offense. The W.W.E. drug testing policies are available for all to see and all aspects of the program are laid out extensively (full details here). There is no grey-area.

Can you imagine if a harness trainer was barred from racing for life after a third drug-violation? Talk about integrity.

The W.W.E. has its own network, available to anyone with an Internet connection for just $10 per month. The network includes access to all live pay-per-view events as well as an archive of every W.W.E. event ever televised on pay-per-view, all episodes of its Raw and Smackdown content as well as countless documentaries. In harness racing, you have to search through YouTube or other video-engines for harness racing video content.

Lastly, the W.W.E. has built an effective brand and has six million viewers watch its content on a weekly basis. So they aren’t nearly as concerned about spending a few extra dollars at a live event. To compare this to a takeout rate is faulty, when all W.W.E. fans are looking for in return is entertainment, while the gambler is trying to make money.

It was a good thing that Steve Ross brought up the W.W.E., because harness racing should wish they could be as popular and be an industry with that much of an impact on the general public.

— Darin Zoccali / Staten Island, NY

RE: Sorella’s Solutions

(Originally published April 16, 2017)

“Just place this one little ad into hundreds of newspapers and the money will roll in.” Don Lapre…

Those of us who are old enough may remember this guy.

Check Wikipedia if you don’t know him…

Spend several million dollars (guess which company should be engaged for this), and let’s lower purses, and pay an entry fee and we have a winner!

And let’s not forget to actually give the USTA some teeth because they’ve had none for a long time.

Yonkers and Pocono and some others that we all know of, don’t care if one more person walks in and buys a program and bets. Not as long as the slots and tables (where applicable) are functioning. Remember that we are talking about a sport that would have been gone a while ago without the casinos. That’s a tough trend to buck.

How do you get younger people with the attention span of a gnat and are glued to some device that gets recharged daily, to get interested in and return over and over to a game that is by nature, slower? Pop up ads? Really?

Why not hand out betting vouchers on a college campus? Or have pole dance night? Or jello shot night? Hey, drunks might throw money away faster.

I would say there is exactly one track that might care about all of this at the moment, and the minute that track gets a casino, there will be exactly zero tracks that will care.

Can anyone guess which track that is? Hint: It’s near Met Life Stadium…

The problem is not a lack of trying, though it is part of the problem.

The problem is the very thing that is supporting horse racing, the casino.

Given the choice, people will always flock to the casino in favor of the horses, like it or not.

This is tragic given the history and the beauty and the excitement of the game, but “it is what it is.”

I do love Mr. Sorella’s salesmanship, really, I do. I’m in that field and I think I have learned something new from him. I’m just not sure that you can bring back the pay phone in the age of the iPhone… And I wish I was 100 per cent wrong about this.

— Vic Dante / North Caldwell, NJ

More thoughts on Sorella’s Solutions

Regarding Sorella’s Solutions (full story here) concerning increasing the overall exposure of the general public to harness racing with the ultimate goal of increasing on-track attendance.

If that could truly enable us to succeed and thrive then I think his ideas and points are valid. I agree with everything he says except the goal he’s trying to obtain. The days of us succeeding as an industry by depending upon on track attendance are long gone. We obtain purse revenues from just two avenues. One of course is through handle and the second through welfare/slot money.

Since it would be short-sighted to depend on slot revenue ad infinitum we must find ways to raise the handle. We should possibly utilize his approach on funding although it can be argued that when purses escalate more money flows into horse purchase and acquisition. That said, we definitely need to allocate more money to green younger horses versus older claimers who sometimes race for their actual price tag, but that’s been bandied about

forever. Increasing horse population can be another article. (LOL)

Thus the goal first must be getting more dollars into the betting windows instead of just more bodies to the track. If you want the younger generations and even us baby boomers to wager more, then concentrate on promoting more wagering not just more attendance.

That said. Mobile and online wagering IS the solution. We need to go after economic adrenaline junkies. The same thing that drives traders in the stock market is the same factor in play in a horse race with excitement of watching the race in action. When we founded the national race line 900 numbers 25 years ago, long before the Internet era, we discovered that only a handful of callers pressed three to hear just results. The majority of callers pressed one to hear the actual race call. They needed to feel the rush of participation via hearing winning the actual call instead of just recording the result. That feeling remains alive today and we as an industry must constantly let the general public know it not only exists but is there for the taking. Betting must be accessible from anywhere as the technology exists.

Therefore, it’s imperative to adapt to contemporary times and to those generations that are the future of the industry if we are to survive. Think about it.

This generation knows nothing about payphones, cassette recorders, electric typewriters or any of a zillion things fondly familiar to us more seasoned folk. Since they are not capable of marching to our somewhat archaic drummer, It’s mandatory we learn how to march to their specific drummer.

— Eric Cherry / Boca Raton, FL