NYRA's Best Friend

By Neil V. Getnick
I have lost a friend. And New York Thoroughbred racing has lost a friend. He was Peter Karches, the former co-chairman of the New York Racing Association Board of Trustees.

I met him in my capacity as the Federal court-appointed monitor, along with my law firm, over NYRA. When we met in March 2004, NYRA was under a deferred prosecution agreement. One might say that these were not the best conditions under which to begin a friendship. And it was not with that purpose we came to know each other. The monitorship sought the reform of NYRA to help it realize its full value and to best serve the interests of New York Thoroughbred racing, its many constituencies, and our citizenry, no matter who would win the franchise and with it the right to run racing in the future.

Peter Karches was also dedicated to the task of reforming NYRA and maximizing its performance. When we met he was already fighting leukemia. Still, volunteering his time, he served initially as NYRA's co-chief operating officer and then as co-chairman, always side by side with his fellow volunteer, Steven Duncker, NYRA's current chairman. Perhaps Steve said it best: "Even when battling his illness, Peter worked tirelessly for New York racing. His integrity and business sense were unmatched and racing in our state was the beneficiary of those talents."

Peter's personal compass always pointed to true North. Emphasizing a culture of business integrity came naturally to him. He recognized that good conduct is good business. He showed how the two can and must work together. And because he had the respect and admiration of his colleagues, he was able to leave a lasting imprint on NYRA.

Looking back on the monitorship, the best decision I may have made was to spend the entire season living in Saratoga, getting out at dawn to walk the backstretch, and then returning there in the evening when the race day was done. I developed an appreciation of the racing world and the complex and wonderful interaction of owners, trainers, jockeys, and the entire backstretch community. During that summer, I came to feel very connected to Saratoga, its people, and its values. Peter was committed to preserving the historic Saratoga Racecourse while bettering the administration of racing. My team and I, recognizing Saratoga and its racecourse as unique state treasures, continued to focus on reforming and improving NYRA.

In the end, the program adopted by the NYRA Board of Trustees and implemented by the leadership team of Peter Karches, Steve Duncker, and NYRA CEO Charles Hayward set a new industry standard: advancing a program to create a safe, healthy, and humane environment for backstretch workers and their families; cutting off contractual relations with troublesome offshore rebate shops; instituting a strict drug testing program with severe sanctions for violators; implementing pre-race monitoring barns to prevent horse drugging; establishing a fully segregated trust account for horsemen's funds with accessible records; issuance of fully transparent, accurate, and available financial statements; and registration as a money service business, with its attendant anti-money laundering and related reporting requirements.

No wonder when state comptroller Alan Hevesi sat with the editorial board of The Saratogian recently, he said flat out that "NYRA cleaned up its act." He also pointed out that NYRA's turnaround is good for the state's finances by restoring true market value to the racing franchise. Finally, he emphasized that NYRA's reforms should be written into the bid specifications for anyone interested in the future franchise at the end of 2007. Consider the extent to which this is a testament to Peter's work.

And so we have lost a friend. When you next visit Saratoga Racecourse, Belmont Park, or Aqueduct, stop a moment to think about Peter Karches. He never stopped thinking about you.