The New York Racing Association is taking steps to avoid having to abandon live racing once the first race of a program goes off. NYRA president Charles Hayward and track superintendent John Passero have initiated a stronger line of communication with jockeys in an effort to make a decision well in advance of post-time for the first race.
"We're developing a communication strategy with the jockeys," Hayward said. "On days when the weather is bad, we will get together with the jockeys no later than 8:30 (a.m.). If there is any question, we will talk again at 11 o'clock. We won't start a card if there is any concern at all."
Hayward noted not every element of the weather and track condition can be foreseen in the morning, but he said he is "quite confident" the temperature would no longer be a factor in scrapping cards later in the afternoon.
Avoiding mid-card cancellations will not only give fans confidence about getting nine races when they head to the track, but also still avert the inevitable outrage from bettors when multi-race exotic wagers aren't able to be completed.
On Jan. 27--a bitterly cold day in New York--jockeys huddled up after the first race at Aqueduct and decided to complete the daily double by riding the second race and then call it a day. The fate of the pick three and pick four wagers that began with the second race wasn't taken into consideration. Many winning tickets were cashed for a loss.
Hayward said NYRA is exploring the possibility of a rule change that would allow for takeout rates to be altered if a multi-race exotic wager is cut short. In other words, the Jan. 27 pick four, which was taxed at 27%, would have been changed to reflect the 14% takeout rate used for win bets, since only one race in the sequence was actually run.
Canceling the wager altogether is not a fair option since bettors who fail to nab the winner of the first leg often discard their tickets immediately. Hayward called any rule change "a lengthy process." He said he believes "the best solution to the problem is just not to start any card we can't finish."
Passero, whose reign as track superintendent began in January, has been influential in communicating with jockeys.
"I think one of my major jobs here is to open up better lines of communication with the little pilots," Passero said. "I walk the track when it's nasty to tell them that I feel it's OK. If I know there is something wrong out there, I would pull the plug in a second."
"Mr. Passero has been great about getting himself acquainted with everybody and getting everybody's confidence in the room," jockey Aaron Gryder said. "He has been in here a lot of times, and the days that there have been questions, he has called me at 6:30 in the morning. He has called a few of us. Then he has come in here at 10 o'clock with the updated weather. I like that it's an open communication."
Gryder said jockeys must differentiate between uncomfortable and dangerous riding conditions.
"There are days that are extremely cold," he said. "The question is, is it dangerous or just uncomfortable? If it's just uncomfortable, I believe we need to ride. And most of the riders in here believe that."