Loudmouth Racing: Fairytales Do Come True



This story starts in the middle of May, shortly after the Kentucky Derby. I received a telephone call from a prospective client wanting to discuss starting a new racing partnership. As part of my equine law practice, this is not uncommon.


We discussed the potential venture. During the conversation, we talked about the pros and cons of starting a racing partnership. The pros being that it was a wonderful way to offer new people an opportunity into racing, it was more affordable than single ownership and it can be a tremendous amount of fun if you are very lucky. The cons being the reality of the racing game, injuries, soreness, bad partners who you don’t know and the fact that the vast majority of racing owners lose money.


Having watched as people within their family owned and raced horses, the general partners were not dissuaded by the negatives. They knew the pitfalls and were prepared for the pushback I gave them. I don’t want to receive a call and say great, let’s start your partnership and find out six months later you have failed and your partners have vanished. That’s not good for the game but more importantly it’s no fun for you. These partners had a plan and they wanted to push forward 100%.


Over the next few weeks as the remainder of the Triple Crown races were being run, the formation of Loudmouth Racing LLC began to take shape. Drafting the Operating Agreement, the Subscription Agreements and making sure that all legal aspects were in shape, the partners began raising capital. They wanted to race and they wanted to race by Saratoga.


The two managing partners, cousins Stephen Valente and Mike Valenti met with potential investors, trainers and people throughout racing. They did their homework, which is business is 90% the way to success. They determined that they wanted to claim a horse and hope to run back during the Saratoga meet. The partners advised me that they got their financing so that they could make their first claim in the Belmont Spring Meeting.


They claimed Aussie Prayer, a 4 year old New York Bred on July 8th. Aussie Prayer won the race she was claimed in. This means that the first start that Aussie Prayer could run in would either have to be a higher claiming level or an allowance race. An allowance race means that it would be a jump up in competition against New York Breds at the most difficult track to get a win. The allowance race filled as the 6th race on the opening Saturday of the 2016 Saratoga meet, which coincided with the first race of the day being broadcast nationally on the Saratoga Live television show.


As the 6th approached, the Valenti and Valente families and friends gathered in the paddock. There was hope and optimism that this horse could run well. It was not necessarily going to be easy and the competition was tough. The horse broke midpack and stayed there until the top of the stretch. Then Hall of Fame jockey John Velasquez put the gas pedal on. The horse took off and won drawing away.


To think, this partnership had not been in existence before May. This was its first horse, racing in its first start. That is unlikely, but to have that start on a Saturday in Saratoga? Unheard of.


Congratulations to my friends and clients for showing that dreams can come true.

If you are interested in forming your own partnership, or learning more about horse partnerships, email me at [email protected] or call me at 518-430-0005.



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Whoa Cuomo: What is the movement?

Throughout Saratoga opening weekend there were signs posted in front yards and on a billboard on 87N near the exit for the racetrack.  These signs all said Whoa Cuomo. They line Union Avenue. They are on store windows on Broadway. The question is what is why Cuomo and why is Saratoga, a summertime resort, focused on criticizing the Governor of New York.

The Whoa Cuomo movement is a grassroots movement started by Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing. This group is chaired by Saratoga resident Maureen Lewi. Its mission is to ensure that thoroughbred racing is maintained in Saratoga and thereby preserving it in the State of New York.

Presently the group believes that Governor Cuomo is reneging on a pledge dating back to 2012. The New York Racing Association in 2012  agreed to a plan whereby NYRA would be placed under government control for three years subject to  certain conditions. As reported by the New York Times in 2012, these conditions include allowing control of the NYRA board and it’s governance to be placed in the hands of the Governor. In addition to the reorganization of the board, certain monies were loaned to NYRA from the anticipated Video lottery terminal (VLT) revenue from the slot parlor in Aqueduct. Even as this deal was being made,  there was concern about what may come from New York taking control of NYRA This was laid out by the Washington Post’s Andy Beyer. 

NYRA paid back the note that was due over three years in two. NYRA found a CEO who has stabilized the finances at NYRA. The attendance figures increased. The handle became stronger. The tv contracts became better even resulting in a new 2 hour show carried on MSG+ and other stations throughout the country. While on track issues may remain, it is clear NYRA is headed in the right direction, even under governmental watch.

Remember the 2012 takeover. Governor Cuomo stated during that press conference that government should not be in the permanent business of thoroughbred racing. It seemed that taken at face value, if NYRA did what it was supposed to do, government would not be in the permanent business of racing. NYRA had one last responsibility; to submit their version of a reprivatization plan. While NYRA was permitted to do this in 2015; for business reasons it asked for a one year extension which was granted.

Fast forward to April 2016, NYRA filed its reorganization plan. By statute it had to provide options for the state to choose from. The first option was to allow  for total board control of 15 members, all from the private sector. The second option is one for 15 board members, 4 appointed by legislators. The third option would delay any privatization by a year and continue things as they are.  The NYRA board chose to recommend one of the first two options according to WAMU. 

The Governor rejected NYRA’s plan. The Cuomo plan changes the requirement that the Senate pick two members of the board and the Assembly pick two members with the Governor having one pick for the Board with the plan that has Cuomo picking all 5 members of the board. Furthermore, Cuomo’s plan diverts VLT revenue from NYRA into governmental operations.

The diversion of the revenue created a significant concern for those interested in racing. Should Cuomo’s plan occur not only will racing suffer but the ramifications will be felt  industry wide.  Whether it is the revenue on track, the breeder who gets money from the VLT, the hay guy it will impact the communities where the race tracks are.

People who were supportive of Cuomo in the past feel betrayed. Two people, Charles Wait and John Hendrickson, with deep ties to both Saratoga and the NYRA board are frustrated by Cuomo’s plan to take money promised for NYRA. There is a belief that Cuomo got the benefit of a $1Billion dollar land deal for the land where the tracks are without the compensation committed in 2012.

As a result of what is perceived as actions against the interests of racing and specifically Saratoga, Waite and Hendrickson and the Concerned Citizens bought a billboard and put of signs saying Whoa Cuomo. They are asking an industry to come together  and stand up to the perceived bullying and money grab by Cuomo.

So, in racing as in life we follow the money. The money trail leads away from NYRA to Cuomo. It is telling that those who have worked with Cuomo in racing leadership have walked away. It is that trail that has made a community say Whoa Cuomo.


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Two Year Old in Training Sales are begining

This week, the two year old in training sales begin. The first sale of the season is the Fasig Tipton Florida Sale.

For many buyers, the two year old sales offer a prime opportunity to purchase a new horse. The sales bring horses that have had the opportunity to grow and develp from the yearling season.

Each two year old sale starts with a breeze day. These breezes, or  one furlong works allow purchasers, trainers and vets to examine the horse’s motion and movement. It allows to gage the horses stride as it would show on a track.

The two year old sales had been a nice place to buy value; now with graduates such as 2015 two year old champion Nyquist coming through the ring; it’s a place to buy champions.

Watch the Fasig Tipton breeze show and see if you can pick out your next champion.

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Gaming Commission makes sweeping changes to drug policy

The New York State Gaming Commission made significant changes to the drug policy for race horses on Monday November 23, 2015.  According to a press release  issued after their meeting today, an investigation into trainer medication was undertaken subsequent to a PETA investigation into trainer Steve Asmussen’s practices.

The commission as part of its investigation handed down a $10,000 fine against Asmussen, trainer of such past champions as Rachel Alexandra and Curlin, for violations of its drug policy. The investigation found among other things that Asmussen was administrating synthetic thyroid medication to his horses in an attempt to boost the horses metabolism.  In addition, the Commission found that he trained horses in evidence of pain and that labor laws were violated within the barn.

The gaming commission has stated that among other things no drug can now be given to a horse except with a need for medication therapy. All medication for metabolism modification will now be tightly controlled.  Additionally trainers will now be required to maintain a log of all medications administered to each horse in their care.

These proposed changes are subject to a comment period, but should be enacted within the next sixty days.

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Draft Kings and Fan Duel barred from New York: Justifiable protection or stepping out of bounds?

On Tuesday November 10th, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneirderman sent a cease and desist order to two highly prominent daily fantasy sites: Fan Duel and Draft Kings.  According to the New York Times , the attorney general has determined that people who participate in daily fantasy games on this site are gambling. Interestingly, the Attorney General did not take the same position with seasonal fantasy leagues where groups of individuals gather and draft their own leagues.

The attorney general seem to think that because Fan Duel and Draft Kings have made substantial money over the last year conducting daily fantasy leagues in various sports that there must be chance involved. The difficulty is, that the Federal Government in 2006 excluded fantasy sports from the legislation that covers online gambling. As a result, these daily fantasy sites became prevalent.

The Attorney General believes otherwise. He is under the belief that these daily challenges create a game of chance similar to a roulette wheel. Those games are regulated. A piece of the fees are paid to the state and licensing must be achieved through the Gaming Board.

If I take my money and wish to participate in a game why can’t I do that? Why can’t I do that when I have analyze and choose the playsers and determine what makeup will provide the best results? Who exactly am I hurting? If a company is benefitting is that not what capitalism is all about?

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Runhappy saga: How a feel good story has turned to a Court battle.

At the outset, I want to be clear, I do not practice in the state of Kentucky. I cannot therefore make any assumptions or statements on Kentucky Law or how it would apply in whatI am going to write. That is for Kentucky lawyers to fight and for the Courts in the Commonweath to decide.

According to today’s Paulick Report article, Maria Borell, the trainer of Breeders Cup Sprint winner Runhappy, is suing her former owners Gallery Racing LLC and Jim and Linda  Mcingvale individually for breach of contract and libel. The lawsuit was filed Monday in the Commonwealth of Kentucky against the Mcingvale’s individually, their stable Gallery Racing LLC and naming the Breeders Cup and Keenland as third party defendants in that they control the purse distribution.

This matter has erupted from what should have been a wonderful David versus Goliath moment in racing; Runhappy winning the Breeder’s Cup Sprint. Runhappy had run two races over the winter; the second leading to an injury that sidelined him for four months. At that time the horse was trained by Laura Wohlers, Jim Mcingvale’s sister in law, and by all indications a trainer solely for the Mcinvales when they are in between other trainers. In April, the Mcinvales turned training over to Maria Borell, a 32 year old trainer who had not had success on the track previously. However, that was about to change as Maria Borell trained Runhappy to 6 straight wins including two Grade 1 victories: the Kings Bishop in Saratoga and Breeder’s Cup Sprint.

From public reports everything changed the morning after the Breeder’s Cup when Wohlers sought to have Runhappy train and Borell refused citing heat and filling in the ankle. Wohlers immediately terminated . Runhappy was removed from Borell’s care and a war of words ensued. What is clear is that Borell was not paid the traditional trainer’s commission of 10% of the winners awards. Additionally Borell believes she would be entitled to 2 lifetime breeding rights for Runhappy. These were not paid to her, and it appears that Borell believes that the Mcingvale’s made libelous statements in another article published by the Paulick Report.

It is unfortunate that the feel good story of a girl from Syracuse coming to the Breeder’s Cup at 32 with a horse nobody thought much of earlier in the year ends up being one of the favorites in the Breeder’s Cup Sprint and actually winning the race. It’s the stuff that makes Hollywood stories, only this time it was real. The sad thing for Maria Borell is there is no happy ending to this fairy tale.

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Grand Slam or not Grand Slam?

On Saturday, American Pharoah will be the first horse to ever have the opportunity to combine a Triple Crown with a Breeder’s Cup championship. This is because American Pharoah is the first horse to have this opportunity since the last Triple Crown winner was before the Breeder’s Cup was even developed.

Those marketing this potential 4 race streak: Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont and Breeder’s Cup had to decide what to call this. They used what other sports have used as the term : a Grand Slam. In Tennis it is the winner of Wimbledon, French Open, US Open and Australian Open in one year, and in golf it is the winner of the US Open, Masters, British Open and PGA Championship.

Here is hoping that we as fans of horse racing see our version of the Grand Slam on Saturday.

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OTB in New York, has it’s time passed?

The Daily Racing Form has an article on the New York Comptroller’s audit regarding Off Track Betting (OTB) in New York.

Among its findings, the Comptroller reported that there was a decline in handle from 2009 to 2013 of 19%. This decline in handle does not necessarily mean that there is a corresponding decline in wagering or racing interest over the same time period. Prior to 2009 and the onset of ADW wagering, the OTBs were the only option for people who were not at a track to wager on racing in New York, As ADW wagering became more prevalent during the period studied by the Comptroller, it was only natural that OTB wagering declined. This occurred for several reasons, first the various tracks had their own platforms that offered better or different take out schemes. Second, the companies offered rebates and other promotions for wagering with them.

The difficulty is the corresponding result from lack of wagering is the lack of contribution made to the local economies where the OTBs are located. The Comptroller said that the local counties where the OTBS are located suffered a 42% drop in payments for the same time period. This is directly related to the lack of wagering because the OTB parlors are brick and mortar and need to be staffed by employees, whereas the ADW is computer based and the individual sits at their computer screen and punches in their own ticket.

That being said, the true function killing the OTB is the greed of the tracks providing the signal. The charges that a non-racing simulcast provider paid specifically to harness tracks is substantially outweighed by the income it receives. For example, Saratoga Harness received $2.5 million for the simulcast feed on only $300,000 of handle. This disparity in charges against revenue creates a business model doomed for failure.

The OTB system was a necessity when it started, it is something now whose time has past? The future looks bleak but hopefully with good leadership and positive legislation they can survive. Racing in NY may or may not need OTBs but the local communities that receive payments from them certainly do.

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Saratoga 2015: One for the ages

When one practices in equine law, it is important to be present during one of the (and in my view the) major racing meets of the calendar year. That would be the just concluded Saratoga 2015 meet. This meet was one for the ages for many reasons; both personally and professionally. I am beyond grateful that I am able to relocate my practice to Saratoga for the 7 weeks of Saratoga and still maintain my private non racing practice without missing a beat.

This year saw weather the likes I hadn’t recalled before. The New York Racing Association (NYRA) only had to move 8 races off the turf for inclement weather or dangerous conditions. The number in 2014 was well in excess of four times that amount. The weather led to two major improvements; an attendance figure reported over 1,000,000 fans and handle which represents the money wagered from all sources of over $648,000,000 for 40 days but more importantly record on site handle of over $157,000,000 which crushed previous handle records. The attendance figures went up as well with over 1 million fans paying for admission to the track. This proves that fans still want to see the best racing at the best track in America.

Fans were able to see that, with 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah coming to Saratoga. 15,000 fans came and saw him gallop around Saratoga Race Course. They witnessed yet another example of the reason why Saratoga is called the graveyard of champions when Keen Ice came up to and past American Pharoah to win the 147th edition of the Travers Stakes.

Professionally Engel Law Offices continued to represent owners, trainers, jockeys and horsemen with their legal needs. Whether it is an administrative hearing before the Stewards or Gaming Commission, estate planning, partnership agreements, litigation or other legal needs our office is here for you. Thank you for entrusting us with your legal needs this season, but please remember we will represent those with matters related to equine law and those non-equine law matters for individuals and families affiliated with thoroughbred racing throughout New York.




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No Shame for American Pharoah

Let me be clear .. . Keen Ice won the Travers on Saturday and that is a good thing for thoroughbred racing. Yes, I said it  . . .being an unabashed American Pharoah fan does not diminish my respect and understanding for Keen Ice, Donegal Racing, Dale Romans and Javier Castellano.

American Pharoah does not have to go undefeated to deserve the accolades he has earned. He is the Triple Crown Champion. He is as Dale Romans even said, America’s horse. To see 15,000 people watch him jog around the track twice on Friday was a sight I haven’t seen in 40 years of being around horse racing. I don’t know that i will ever see it again frankly.

American Pharoah during workout at Saratoga Race Course.

American Pharoah during workout at Saratoga Race Course.

There are many reasons why American Pharoah lost. Some theories range from the absurd (jetlag) to the sensible ( long campaign wore him out). The fact remains, the Bafferts and the Zayats have done what they said they would do; campaign the Triple Crown champion in a manner where the most people could have the opportunity to see him. That does nothing to diminish the horse’s championship year. How many Superbowl Champions have gone undefeated? None since 1972 a longer period of time than Triple Crown winners. How many baseball teams go undefeated? Nope didn’t think so. So why should a loss in a major race to a worthy competitor diminish American Pharoah’s successes? It absolutely shouldn’t.

What it should show is horse racing is competitive. The race is run for a reason, to show what horse can win going a set distance on a given day. Keen Ice was the better horse and Javier Castellano was the better jockey on Saturday. Would the result have been different had Victor Espinosa rode a race on the dirt track before the Travers. It’s like putting on a green for the first time you don’t know the true break without experience and Javier had it, Victor didn’t.

Let’s hope we can see a rematch soon . . would be great to see Beholder, American Pharoah and Keen Ice in the Breeders  Cup Classic.

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