Chris Kay has been the CEO and President of the New York Racing Association for close to four years now. When he was hired, he had no background in racing, although he said he had once gone to a track. Whether you agree with him or not, he has gotten up-to-speed on numerous aspects of the business, for which I give him credit.
But on Tuesday, he said something indicating that he knows nothing about the fundamentals of that business – which is, of course, horse racing. He described an innovation brought about during his administration – what he referred to as a “book.” Now I realize, like his boss the Governor, he will take credit for almost anything favorable short of the sun rising in the East. What he was describing, however, is the condition book. It’s been in existence for the 20 or so years that I have had interests in horses.
For those who do not know, a condition book is a schedule of the races that a track hopes to run over a period of several weeks. For each day of that period, it will identify the level of a particular race (maiden, allowance, stake, etc.), and the eligibility requirements (age, gender, etc.) It allows trainers and owners to pick out races for which one of their horses may be eligible. It’s an important part of the planning that goes into the preparation of a given horse.
Now, it is unreasonable to expect that anyone, even the head of one of the nation’s major racing jurisdictions, will know every detail about the business. (Incidentally, no one on the Franchise Oversight Board to whom Kay was speaking seemed to know of this, either.) But Kay was using his innovative “book” as a reason for why he is able to attract more owners to the sport. According to Kay, owners from “Virginia or North Carolina” will now know that a race is going to go on a particular day, so they will plan a trip to Aqueduct [sic] to watch their charge.
Of course, if an owner thinks that is a guarantee, it may be more useful to provide some educational information as to why that may not happen: there may be insufficient entries to run the race; there may be too many and your horse is on the also-eligible list; the race may come off the turf and you only want to run on the grass.
The more fundamental problem, however, is that Kay has less understanding of the actual mechanics of racing than most owners, trainers, and barn staff. When I was fortunate enough to get a horse to the track last year, one of the most frequent questions I was asked by non-fans was “how do you pick out a race?” The answer, of course, was “the condition book.”
If Kay now has some investment in his “book,” perhaps he can now work at getting it out on a more timely manner than the last minute. It’s a source of frustration for trainers (and, presumably the owners he is concerned about) that proper preparation for a horse is even more important than being able to get a room reservation.