Trainer Ward Critical of Recent Attacks on NYRA

Kentucky Derby-winning trainer John Ward has called some of the recent attacks on the embattled New York Racing Association "essentially a political assassination campaign" linked to development of video lottery terminals at racetracks in the state.

During the past two months, NYRA's business practices have criticized in a report compiled by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office, and in a draft audit of the association prepared by the office of state Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi. NYRA is also the subject of a federal investigation following guilty pleas by former mutuel clerks for income tax fraud.

Ward, who is president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, attended the meeting NYRA officials held Aug. 8 to discuss why construction had been temporarily halted on the VLT project at Aqueduct. NYRA's partner in the VLT project, MGM Mirage, said it could not remain involved if the non-profit association is indicted.
"I guess my take on the whole thing is that politics is trying to cannibalize racing in the state of New York," Ward said Aug. 10. "It appears that the NYRA has come under a lot of heat from the political side of it, and that things are being brought up are essentially petty that have been public forever. It's just being brought up and rehashed forever in the papers, which is no more than essentially a political assassination campaign that's being carried on by somebody."

NYRA has a state franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga through 2007. Legislation passed this year will extend the franchise through 2013 if NYRA is able to open the VLT facility by March 2004.

"The NYRA has never been an organization that's had a lot of extra money to spend." Ward said. "What is income-generated is spent back on racing, but since video lottery has come on the screen, all off a sudden there is a pot of gold that bureaucrats want a piece of."

Ward, who is based in Lexington, has brought his stable to Saratoga every summer since the mid-1990s, and often keeps a string of horses at Belmont Park. He said NYRA has done a good job of maintaining top-caliber racing, and should not lose the franchise.

"This is no more than, in my opinion, an orchestrated political event," he said. "The shame of it is, a lot of people, and that includes me, come here to New York, not only Saratoga, for the quality of racing. The NYRA has done a tremendous job of keeping the quality of racing at the absolute highest level.

"We shudder to think what racing would be like in New York without the dedication of the people in the NYRA. If it turns and New York racing is run by for-profit people, then look to Finger Lakes to be your type of racing. I don't know anything about Finger Lakes, but I take it it's owned by somebody for profit.

That's what you're going to have because profit-centered management has to take 10% to 15% off the top to run, and it's not possible to keep racing at these kinds of high levels."