Trainer John Ward received a surprise phone call on Wednesday from New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer, three days after the Kentucky horseman made comments in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., that were critical of the federal investigation of the New York Racing Association. The investigation came on the heels of a report from Spitzer's office that was highly critical of NYRA management.
"He just called me and wanted to more or less express that his investigation was not politically motivated, that it had nothing to do with politics," Ward said of his conversation with Spitzer. "He also took exception with my quote that racing was being cannibalized by politics."
Ward told Spitzer he did not imply the attorney general's investigation was politically motivated but held his ground that New York racing is mired in politics because of legislative meddling, gubernatorial vetoes, the state's off-track betting system, and the involvement of New York's former mayor in the proposed sale of New York City OTB.
"I said, 'I'm from Kentucky, I know what politics looks like,'" said Ward, who is president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders.
"He obviously is very sensitive to any kind of criticism, and I voiced my stance that we still were in the America, that there is a policy of free speech, and that I would continue to go by that policy. After that was said, we got to be on much better terms.
"We had a fairly pleasant conversation on what his investigation was about, and I said (NYRA) may have its problems, but I would lean toward fixing the problems, not starting over with someone new. The problems he found at NYRA probably exist at other tracks. Because there are a few problems you shouldn't shoot the horse. He told me, 'I wouldn't do that.' I said that's what it looks like is happening."
Ward told Spitzer the reason he is in New York is the high quality of the racing program and that it's important to maintain that quality. He then invited Spitzer to stop by his Saratoga barn one morning so he could give him a personal tour. "I really hope he takes me up on that," Ward said.