A recent column in Saratoga Today by attorney and owner William G. Gotimer Jr. shows that there are still plenty of clear-eyed folks within the racing ranks. The piece, a general assessment of the industry heading into the new year, begins with some good (for Racing) – stronger economic numbers over covid-impacted 2020 – but then Gotimer warns of “ominous clouds ahead.” Here are some excerpts:
“The industry in general, including NY racing, survives in large part with hefty subsidies…. In many jurisdictions these subsidies were guaranteed only for a certain period and as is the case in NY authorities are now questioning to what extent they should continue. A proposal [which HW has a hand in] to eradicate these subsidies to racing and direct them to more generalized needs has already been proposed in NYS. While this current proposal is unlikely to succeed it would be naïve to think it will be the last attempt to ‘decouple’ casino revenues from racing subsidies. Decoupling…means divorce and this is and should be a frightening word to the racing industry as it is unclear which if any racing circuits could survive a full decoupling.
“Additionally, regulation of horse racing by the Federal Government has arrived with the passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which promises to provide oversight of the myriad racing interests. It is axiomatic that the power to regulate includes the power to outlaw. Those that think horse racing is too important or too ingrained in American culture to face extinction should be mindful of the recent history of live animal circuses and theme parks like SeaWorld. Public sentiment and regulations can turn quickly and dramatically. Whether horse racing likes it or not it is now subject (more than ever) to political (and by extension public) opinion.
“The criminal guilty pleas of former wonder trainer, Jorge Navarro (and his sentence to five-year imprisonment this week), and the ongoing prosecution of another wonder trainer, Jason Servis, publicly portray an industry that sees the criminal use of performance-enhancing drugs on animals by numerous players…and a general acceptance of such misdeeds by a host of industry members, licensed professionals, regulators, advertisers and gamblers. The official and public documents in the federal court cases are a damning condemnation of the sport and its participants. If you like racing it is a painful read bereft of ‘good guys.’
“It is truly sobering that these multiple guilty pleas and the future incarceration of former trainers and veterinarians is not the biggest scandal of 2021 racing. Sadly, that distinction lies with the sudden, yet unexplained [though not rare], death of…Medina Spirit. After his Kentucky Derby win [Medina] tested positive for a prohibited substance – an event that spawned a spate of denials then retraction of some of the denials, lawsuits, public ridicule on “SNL,” accusations of corruption at heretofore respected testing facilities, an attempted ban of [Bob] Baffert by the NYRA, federal court intervention preventing that ban on US Constitutional grounds and uncertainty as to which horse won the 2021 Kentucky Derby and which horses will be allowed to compete in the 2022 Kentucky Derby.
“While most, or all, of the above is still to be finally determined the outcome almost does not matter for racing’s reputation and by extension – its future. While I certainly believe there is a case for racing’s future – its participants and regulators are providing ample ammunition to its growing detractors.”
Indeed, Mr. Gotimer, “ample ammunition” like this.