Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York said individuals may not realize the economic importance of the horse industry to Empire state, and that even she was "a little surprised" when she saw the results of the most recent American Horse Council national economic impact study.
Clinton, who along with Republican Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee co-hosted an April 4 reception for horse industry representatives at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., was instrumental in arranging a special exhibit of harness racing art in the Russell rotunda. The art was provided by the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, which is located in Goshen, N.Y.
Chafee is a former blacksmith with a background in harness racing.
New York currently has four operating harness raceways--Batavia, Buffalo, Monticello, and Saratoga--all of which have video lottery terminals. Yonkers Raceway is closed while construction crews build a VLT casino, while Vernon Downs and Tioga Park are scheduled to reopen this spring.
New York in the 1960s and early 1970s was the world capital of harness racing. Business at the metropolitan tracks slipped considerably when Meadowlands opened in New Jersey in the mid-1970s, though it remains an important agribusiness.
"Harness racing is very important to New York state," Clinton said. "It's something that's part of tradition. It's important to recognize the impact people sometimes overlook or may not know about."
The horse industry in New York, regardless of breed, produces goods and services estimated at $1.4 billion, according to the AHC-commissioned study. About 152,000 New Yorkers are involved in the horse industry, which has created 12,700 full-time equivalent jobs. Those numbers should increase when Aqueduct opens its VLT casino, though that project has been delayed.
Clinton said her staff made her aware of the economic impact figures. "I have to confess I was a little surprised," she said. "It's quite significant."
Clinton, whose husband, Bill, served as U.S. president for eight years, is seeking re-election to the Senate and is considered a potential Democratic presidential nominee for 2008. Students at Morrisville State University, a New York college with a Standardbred breeding facility, named a filly Hillary's Hope in honor of the senator. The pacing filly was a bit precocious.
"She won her first race in August 2005, which I took as an omen," Clinton said with a laugh.
The reception was held in conjunction with the AHC issues forum. A large crowd packed a small room on the fourth floor of the Russell Building.
"It's a tremendous turnout," said Clinton, whose husband's late mother, Virginia, attended the races at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. "What a great tribute to the American Horse Council and this exhibit."
The exhibit, called "The Story of Harness Racing by Currier & Ives," contains 32 framed original lithographs. It will remain in the rotunda through April 14.