The following is a letter from Alan Schwartz, president of the Monticello Harness Horsemen's Association, to Mark Gearan, chairman of the NYS Gaming Commission. It is presented here unedited, and does not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.
Dear Chairman Gearan:
I am writing on behalf of the horsemen at Monticello Raceway to request the NYS Gaming Commission’s immediate review of Monticello Raceway Management’s recent actions at the track which have serious and detrimental impacts on both the integrity of racing at Monticello and the welfare of the horses.
With absolutely no advance notice, Management late last week posted signs announcing that the main track would no longer be available for training on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, beginning 2/21/2014. This decision to restrict access to key training facilities at the track -- which is clearly retribution on the part of Management toward the horsemen with whom they are currently in difficult contract negotiations -- jeopardizes both the welfare of the horses and the integrity of the racing product upon which bettors are being asked to wager.
Horses are similar to human athletes in that they require conditioning at a certain level, which must be maintained in order for them to perform as reasonably expected to their form. In pari-mutuel wagering authorized in New York State, it is clear that past performance is of extreme importance to the wagering patron, and so maintaining a horse’s conditioning through regular training is critical to the structure of the wagering system. (As a matter of fact, there is a provision that penalizes horsemen when harness horses show form reversals or inconsistent race performance lines.)
The issue of “form reversal” has already become an issue for some of the wagering public at Monticello because of recent extreme winter weather, which has kept some horses from “getting out” to go through their usual conditioning routines. Many of these racing fans have already told us that they have cut down on their wagering at the facility as a result and are waiting for these temporary weather conditions to pass so they can return to their previous levels of wagering.
Now however, due to Management’s decision to punish the horsemen over a contract dispute by limiting use of the track for training, we can fully expect the situation to continue and even worsen. Management’s actions will further limit the ability of these horses to perform as expected and in some cases -- like athletes that are not in top shape -- may even cause serious injuries. (Additional note: For the record, we are quite comfortable characterizing these actions as retribution toward the horsemen, as they are not the only acts recently undertaken by Management. The Monticello Harness Horsemen’s Association also just received an eviction notice and order to vacate their offices at the track, which -- while obviously unrelated to the health and safety and gaming integrity issues we are outlining in this letter -- is equally as petty as an effort to punish hard working horsemen whose welfare eligibility is monitored on site.)
I believe that a review of the current VLT legislation will demonstrate that the law does not allow for the diminution or elimination of racing facilities at a premise that holds a racing license. And while it is true that Management has not “eliminated” the main track permanently (which is the only track at the facility appropriate for high level, high quality training), their actions absolutely represent a diminution of racing-related facilities and, for all intents and purposes, “eliminate” the track on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. While there is a so called “training track,” it is not suitable for conditioning at the level necessary to keep a race horse fit to compete at levels consistent with his prior performances.
Regardless of the law, these actions are simply wrong for the welfare of the horses and the wagering public, and so we seek the Gaming Commission’s immediate intervention in this situation. Permission from the Gaming Commission’s predecessor agency was, and I believe still is, a condition precedent to the reduction and/or elimination of facilities at the premises, and it is clear that Monticello Management has acted improperly. Several years ago, another upstate track was fined for not securing prior approval before taking down two barns at Vernon Downs, and I believe that the same principle applies here. In fact, it would seem that this situation is perhaps even more significant and problematic, as Management’s actions directly impact the horsemen’s ability to condition their horses for racing; and thereby impact the health and safety of horses and the very integrity of racing in New York State.