The Saratoga experience is a unique one. It’s only been a week since the meet ended, but it seems like a distant memory. Yet, the first time I walk through the gates next year, it will be as though I never left. Here are some final observations:
- By most measures, a hugely successful meet. The wagering handle was up significantly from last year, the weather was glorious, and there were many excellent races. There were full fields and challenging cards. The number of Pick 6 carryovers is a testament to the competitive nature of most days. One troubling indicator, however, was the attendance over the last half of the meet. While NYRA touted total attendance of more than a million, they could only arrive at that number by counting the thousands of season pass holders that did not show up on a given day. They falsely inflated last year’s attendance in the same way, adding the number of unused season passes to each day’s turnstile count. In 2014, there were a total of about 6,400 season passes sold; this year there were about 8,400. So when the NYRA announced attendance – again, not the actual attendance – was lower on most days than last year’s figure for the last 20 days, that should cause alarms to go off. It may be for the rest of us, but probably not for those in the executive suite who believe their own nonsense.
- Highlight of the meet: For me, it wasn’t any race, but an experience. I left my house an hour before American Pharoah’s scheduled gallop over the track, figuring I could park in my usual spot near the Nelson Avenue backstretch gate. After going two blocks and seeing the streets packed with parked cars and throngs heading in the track’s direction, I gave that plan up, parking farther away than if I left the car in the driveway. The reported attendance in the grandstand was about 15,000. On the backstretch there were thousands more. There were lines ten deep at the backstretch snack bar – longer lines than I saw at clubhouse betting windows on Travers day. All this to watch a horse jog, then gallop, two times around the track. While we sometimes forget what got us hooked on this game, it is obviously the horse.
- Say what? Perhaps the most interesting thing I heard on the backstretch several times was the idea that Anthony Bonomo would – or should – resume chairing the NYRA Reorganization Board.
Bonomo was the last Chair “recommended” by Governor Cuomo following the departure of David Skorton to head the Smithsonian. Shortly after his election by the Board, Bonomo was apparently implicated in the federal indictment of former Senate leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam, and then decided to suspend his participation in Board activities. I say “apparently” because Bonomo is neither charged with a crime, nor is he even mentioned by name in the indictment.
Even though he is not named, numerous reports have identified Bonomo, who is the head of a medical malpractice insurer, as the entity identified in the indictment as having given Adam Skelos a no-show job in order to secure favorable legislative treatment benefitting the insurance company. To my knowledge, Bonomo has never denied being the individual identified in the indictment, and he did leave his position in charge of a major governmental body that oversees racing at New York’s three big tracks.
Setting aside whether he would be a good pick as Chair, there are two significant problems with his returning if, indeed, he is the figure identified in the indictment.
The first is that even though he is neither charged in the indictment nor named in it, his alleged involvement is troubling. One of the offenses with which the senior Skelos is charged is “soliciting a bribe” from the malpractice insurer. The indictment alleges that a bribe was made by the insurer – giving the son a no-show job in the hope of favorable legislative action. The necessary corollary of that allegation, of course, is that the malpractice insurer bribed a prominent political figure.
The insurer not being charged with a crime seems to be consistent with the approach taken by United States Attorney Preet Bharara in both this case and the indictments against Skelos’ counterpart in the Assembly, now-former Speaker Sheldon Silver. He is apparently not charging significant – and possibly culpable – figures in the hope of landing the big fish. In the Skelos case, the Complaint providing the probable cause to arrest Dean and Adam Skelos alleges there are two “Cooperating Witnesses” who have entered non-prosecution agreements with the government in exchange for their continuing cooperation. Obviously, one would need a non-prosecution agreement if there is potential criminal liability. These witnesses are related to other allegations against the Skelos’ and not to those pertaining to the malpractice insurer. The second indictment fleshed out the allegations relating to the malpractice insurer. The level of detail strongly suggests that there are cooperating witnesses from the insurer, even though they are not identified as such.
I once again emphasize that Anthony Bonomo has neither been charged with a crime nor even identified in the Skelos indictment. But if the resolution of that case concludes that he was indeed providing benefits in exchange for anticipated favors, it seems unlikely the Governor would allow him to resume as Chair. It is perhaps the height of irony that Bonomo began serving on the NYRA Reorganization Board – created by the Governor purportedly to restore public trust – at the same time the indictment alleges that Adam Skelos began his no-show job with the malpractice insurer.
The other troubling aspect of Bonomo’s appointment are the reports that he was a substantial contributor to one Andrew Cuomo. I realize there is nothing wrong with this in the sense of “legally wrong,” but is this the perception that an Administration that has touted its reform of racing – leaving aside whether there is any merit to that claim – wishes to pursue?