Groups and individuals trying to influence the future direction of horse racing in New York have opened their wallets to statewide candidates and campaigns of legislators who will have a role in picking a new owner of the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga racetracks.
The biggest beneficiary--by far--from equine interests over the past six months was Democratic Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who is far ahead in the polls in the governor's race, according to filings made public this week by the state Board of Elections.
A number of entities vying for the franchise now held by the New York Racing Association pumped money into Spitzer's campaign, including $10,000 from TVG and its parent and at least $5,000 from Delaware North and its subsidiaries.
Among his top donors was WinStar Farm co-owner Bill Casner, chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, who gave $50,000. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association donated $4,000 to Spitzer. Casner is a former board member of the NTRA's political action committee.
More money from Kentucky also came Spitzer's way, including $50,000 apiece from breeder and banker Tracy W. Farmer, the former head of the Kentucky Democratic Party who in the past has donated to outgoing Republican Gov. George Pataki, and Angela Beck, the wife of Antony Beck, the president of Gainesway. Farmer's wife, Carol, also gave $8,000 to Spitzer.
Former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones, owner of Airdrie Stud near Midway, donated $10,000 to Spitzer, while Three Chimney's Farm in Kentucky gave $2,000 to Spitzer and Blythe Clay, wife of the farm's owner Robert Clay, donated $2,000 to Spitzer.
"It's unbelievable. Kentucky for Spitzer,'' said Bennett Liebman, head of a racing and wagering think tank at Albany Law School.
There was plenty more for Spitzer. Saratoga's Mary Lou Whitney and her husband, John Hendrickson, gave him $10,000 apiece, while B. Wayne Hughes, a wealthy California horseman and owner of Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky who usually supports conservative Republican causes, gave him $50,000. Also giving to Spitzer was racetrack owner R.D. Hubbard, and his wife, who donated $10,000 apiece.
"The question is why," Liebman said of the donations from individuals in Kentucky and elsewhere that have not yet been publicly aligned with any of the 16 groups vying to take over the NYRA franchise. He noted that Farmer, Hughes, Beck, Hubbard and Clay are all on the board of the Breeder's Cup. "It's racing's establishment," he said.
New York Yankees owner and horseman George Steinbrenner gave Spitzer $15,000; his son-in-law, Steve Swindal, is part of a group going after the NYRA franchise and industry insiders have speculated for months that Steinbrenner will end up being a part of that bid.
The New York Thoroughbred Breeders political action committee donated $6,000 to Spitzer, and harness track owner Jeff Gural gave $10,000. The breeders also gave $500 to Assemblywoman Audry Pheffer and $750 to Assemblyman Gary Pretlow; both lawmakers are on the panel overseeing the bidding process.
The franchise bidding process is underway, with bids due at the end of August. Lawmakers and industry officials, however, believe the issue will not be settled until next year when a new governor takes office. With Spitzer far ahead of his Democratic rival, Thomas Suozzi, and his GOP opponent, John Faso, neither of whom benefited from any major infusion of horse industry donations, racing executives are clearly banking their donations on Spitzer being in office and largely controlling the franchise process.
What's also remarkable about the donation filings is the shift from the industry's usual recipient--Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno--to Spitzer. Not that Bruno didn't also take in some industry cash. He received $7,000 from the New York state breeder's association political action committee, which also gave $19,000 to the campaign committee dedicated to electing Republicans to the Senate that Bruno controls. The breeders group also gave $2,000 to the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee.
The Friends of New York Racing, a group of breeders and owners that have joined with others, including Delaware North, to bid on the franchise, donated $5,000 to the Senate Republican campaign committee.
And the New York Thoroughbred Racing Industry political action committee--whose donors are tied to NYRA--gave $25,000 to the Assembly Democratic committee. The PAC's big donors this year including $10,000 apiece from Chester Broman, Richard Santulli and Albert Fried's company; all three men are NYRA board members.