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Bergman: Are weather cancellations justified?

Bergman: Are weather cancellations justified?
By Jay Bergman

SOA President Joe Faraldo

Photo by Derick Giwner
As a horseplayer that understood how horsemen weathered the winter storm time and time again to race no matter the elements, 2015 is a year that appears to have changed the standardbred sport forever in the northeast. Granted the weather has been to some degree unkind, but the drama that has built every "snow event" into a coming catastrophe has rendered a once durable sport seemingly powerless.

This past Saturday Yonkers Raceway cancelled racing for the seventh time in the young season. A week earlier the Westchester County track also bailed on a Saturday night even though the weather held up well enough in East Rutherford to allow the Meadowlands to complete a full card without incident.

This past Saturday the Meadowlands tried to remain perfect without a cancellation but after just one race the elements were too much to overcome and the program couldn't be saved.

Despite the elements that have managed to create havoc, it's hard to understand how the racetracks 30 years ago managed to stay opened even during snowstorms. Racetracks applied for racing dates and did everything within reason to open and race no matter how difficult the conditions. Maintenance crews did what was necessary to keep tracks in racing condition and horsemen, trainers and drivers recognized a responsibility to owners and horseplayers alike to put on a show.

And to think most of the vehicles during that period were rear-wheel drive only. Today's cars and trucks are far better equipped to manage adverse conditions even when the driver falls asleep. Yet for some reason there has been a rather quick trigger to cancel even if there is the prospect for just a few inches of snow.

SOA of New York president Joe Faraldo is apparently feeling the heat from some of his constituents. When contacted on Saturday he suggested that he's going to ask the Gaming Board to consider a new method be put in place before tracks can cancel. Faraldo was reacting to what took place on Saturday at Yonkers.

"The Presiding Judge is supposed to make the decision," Faraldo said in regard to cancellation of a program that has been drawn. "+"They didn't even ask the Presiding Judge before cancelling the races. Now I'm not saying I'm the right guy to ask but there are horsemen coming from all areas that could have input."

As the horse population has shifted dramatically from the racetrack to farms and training centers shippers make up an extremely large majority of those entered on a nightly basis. With that in mind Faraldo was intimating that the Presiding Judge be given the power to contact as many horsemen as necessary to get a consensus of the ability of horses to show for a given program.

What's incredible about the idea is that it isn't already in place given the nature of today’s technology. How difficult would it be for any presiding judge to have a complete cell phone list of all trainers racing on a given night? All the judge would need to do is send out one group text to horsemen and more than likely he could get real-time information to assist in making a reasoned decision.

Instead it appears as if Yonkers track management has taken complete control of the cancellation situation and left the horsemen, those who put on the show and those who must endure the sacrifice, out of the equation.

Faraldo suggested an eighth program was nearly shelved this past Thursday when temperatures dipped near zero degrees. "We've never cancelled because it was too cold," said Faraldo, the longtime leader of the Yonkers horsemen. Faraldo claimed that track management had contacted him on Thursday concerned over the welfare of horsemen and horses.

Faraldo suggested that track superintendent Ed Ryan was concerned this past Saturday about working on the racetrack during the snow and whether that might make it difficult to keep the track suitable for racing on Sunday afternoon. Obviously Faraldo and the horsemen are quite aware that the Sunday programs are being wagered on in France and no one wants to lose the potentially strong market. At the same time it's difficult to accept Ryan's logic. "They race during the snow at Northfield. They racing during the snow at Buffalo," Faraldo said.

While horses, drivers and trainers were kept out of Yonkers Raceway on Saturday night there was plenty of room for cars in the parking lot with the slot area opened as usual. Faraldo showed his frustration. "I just don't understand why they can't let the horseplayers play. I see no reason why they have to shut down the simulcasting," Faraldo said.

It is puzzling why horseplayers have become less than second-class citizens in an environment that after all does feature gambling.

On a positive note Faraldo said that the International Trot has been set for October 10 and will likely be raced at a distance of one and one-half miles. "We haven't decided on the purse yet and we're not certain how many horses we'll have but I can see a field of 10," said Faraldo.

Faraldo also said that the horsemen and the track have not ironed out other important elements of the International. During its heyday the tracks paid for horses to ship to the U.S. to compete in the race and paid travelling expenses for those accompanying the horses.

Yonkers horsemen that have been shorted by a lack of a continuous purse stream this winter are likely to see a major increase in purses in the very near future. "We're going to raise purses at the same time that Pocono opens," said Faraldo. With the number of lost programs the overall purse fund has swelled to $8 million. According to the terms of the contract with Yonkers the purse fund is not supposed to exceed $2 million at the end of any meet. It would be virtually impossible for that number to be reached by the end of March even with a significant purse increase.

"We're not going to insist on that," said Faraldo in regard to the contract.

Not wanting to spend other people's money but it would be a fantastic idea if the track and horsemen could agree on a $1 million purse for the return of the International Trot.

Weather permitting.

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