Fasig Tipton begins tonight

The annual Fasig Tipton sale begins this evening. This is one of the preeminent yearling sales of the year. For owners, trainers and bloodstock agents it, along with Keenland’s September sale, is the place where the best horses are sold. For the locals and those of us without deep pockets to spend on horses, it is the place to be seen. Free entertainment and people watching is always a good thing.

If you have the opportunity, go to fasigtipton.com and watch the auction, or at least check the results.

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The Case For the Travers

On Sunday, American Pharoah won the Haskell Stakes in an easy fashion. The horse barely broke a sweat and did not appear winded after the race. The case must now be made why American Pharoah should run again against three year olds, as opposed to waiting for older horses and specifically why running  in the Travers makes sense.

The most basic of principles in sport is competition. The Travers offers an opportunity for the 2014 Juvenile Breeders Cup champion, Texas Red to have his first opportunity against American Pharoah. Due to injuries these two horses haven’t competed against each other. Texas Red won the Jim Dandy on Saturday and is the only three year old left in America racing at that championship level that American Pharoah hasn’t beaten. To bring this race to Saratoga would be fantastic.

Saratoga offers the tradition of the Travers. The Travers is the oldest continuous run thoroughbred race in America. It is a race that has eluded Bob Baffert over many years. American Pharoah has the stride and speed necessary to cover the track without difficulty and should allow the Zayat silks to be painted on the canoe in the Saratoga infield. To have anyone else’s silks painted there would be unappealing in the year when the triple crown was won for the first time in 37 years.

The Zayats have said that American Pharoah is the people’s horse. How much more can you be of the people than in Saratoga? You are 300 miles from New England, Pennsylvania and all of New York. This would be a home run for the fans who would clamor to see him. This would allow people who never would have the opportunity to see a horse of this magnitude. Victor Espinosa would not need to walk amongst the fans to the paddock; he probably would be thrust overhead as if he were a chariot rider.

Saratoga deserves to have the opportunity to host American Pharoah. The Zayats should run him here. Will they, only they and Bob Baffert know for sure.


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Cuomo continues to take aim at racing

On October 18, 2012, the State of New York used its legislative muscle to force the New York Racing Association (NYRA) into a franchise reorganization. This government takeover was done legislatively in an attempt to remedy certain financial difficulties that NYRA wen through, including a bankruptcy. In addition to having a franchise oversight committee and the placement of 8 seats on the Board of Directors, the Governor has control over racing by appointing the head of NYRA. This is despite the fact that he refuses to set foot on the grounds. Nonetheless Cuomo made sure that even though the Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga realty were deeded to the New York Racing Association when it was a not for profit; that said land was somehow owned by the state.

Cuomo did appoint his board members. He did make sure that the VLT revenue was received. That said, he also failed to appear at the State run facilities during the entire time New York has run NYRA. The fact remains, this state run agency is not a priority to the Governor, well actually the continued existence and potential privatization is simply not going to happen, because if it does, the Governor loses control. However the legislation for state takeover required that NYRA submit a plan for privatization in 2015. That at least is what they were supposed to do . ..  however as the plans became solidified and were going to be submitted, Governor Cuomo extended the govnernmental control for another year. Why? In order to continue to keep NYRA from being able to manage its business. In order to keep NYRA from running like a business and less like a governmental agency. Cuomo has already has said that the property where Aqueduct Racetrack sits would be much better used for low income housing, however  he has never set foot on the property.

Recently, 13 legislators asked Cuomo to allow NYRA to reprivatize. This would allow the entity that best knows its business. It would keep government out of the gaming business.  The franchise board and Governor solely care about cost cutting. The fan experience is immaterial to them, otherwise they would not stand by and watch as the public is overcharged for food, drinks and seating. The best opportunity for a successful track is to let those who know the business of racing run it.

That being said, I wouldn’t trust that Cuomo will do what’s best for racing. Two generations of this family haven’t so why should Andrew start now?

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Saratoga: The Anticipation


Friday will begin my 38th consecutive year spent at Saratoga Springs, New York. For each of these years, I have spent some or all of the racing season at Saratoga Race Track; not betting on each race, but enjoying the competition that the best of racing has to offer.


The start of each Saratoga season is met with excitement and trepidation from all parties; owners, trainers, jockeys and NYRA administrators. Will I get off the duck list? Will I have my best horses capable of competing against the best of the world. Will the grounds be ready? Will the people come? Will the best horse in America come (American Pharoah)?


Each of these questions will start being answered on Friday. Some are being answered sooner with NYRA making its well publicized announcements as to the changes to the lower carousel, the walk of fame and racing changes that take stakes away from the midweek calendar and places them on already exciting stakes Saturdays filled with the Whitney or the Travers. This is the new age; making certain Saturdays jammed with stakes so as to excite the crowd and build attendance on one day, rather than keep attendance and handle midweek. While it makes for exciting weekend racing, it will diminish the weekday racing. Nothing is more evident that the first race in the condition book; a Claiming race for horses put in for a tag of $16,500 or the lowest level claiming race possible. Hardly the race if scheduled first, you would want to lead off the most austere throughbred racing meet in the Country.


Now, to be honest, that won’t diminish the excitement I have for Saratoga racing. It won’t diminish the feeling of waking up early and going to the track at first light to watch these amazing animals work out and tune up so they can give their all on race day. It will do nothing to diminish the camaraderie and good natured teasing that goes on between owners, trainers and jockeys some who have known and summered at Saratoga for 5 decades or longer.


Win, lose or draw: Friday afternoon, Sam the Bugler will stand at the track apron and call the horses to post and Larry Collmus will open the 2015 racing season with having the fans lead the horses out of the gate. It will be exciting and I look forward to being there.

Categories: Equine Law, Horse Racing, NYRA, Saratoga | Leave a comment

Overtime Laws Apply to Trainers

Ray Paulick has a wonderfully written piece on the issues of labor law for trainers.

The key take away for trainers is this; grooms, exercise riders, hot walkers are all non-exempt hourly employees. These employees are required under Federal Labor Law to be paid overtime if they work beyond 4o hours a week. Additionally the employees are required to have a 1/2 hour unpaid lunch break if they are working more than 8 hours and two 15 minute paid breaks as well.

Should there be a complaint with the US Department of Labor, fines and penalties can be extremely costly yet if violations can be proven to be brought improperly can be obtained.

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Triple Crown letter to my parents

Dear Mom and Dad,


Well, it finally happened! After 37 years and 12 unsuccessful attempts many of which we watched together, the Triple Crown was won on Saturday. As with most things in my life, it has taken a few days to digest what I saw and what (if anything) it means for horse racing and for me.


I continued the tradition we started in 1987, when Mom and I went to watch Alysheba try to win the triple crown. That try was unsuccessful as were the others; Dad’s trip to watch Smarty Jones and mine to watch Big Brown, I’ll Have Another and California Chrome. Honestly, I was beginning to think the task was impossible and the Triple Crown was the unattainable goal.


Until American Pharoah (yes, I know Dad . .. it’s spelled wrong but that’s not our choice is it?) marched down his procession of races this year, I did not think I would ever see a Triple Crown winner again. I remember our poster of Steve Cauthen that hung in the game room in the basement. I took for granted during the 70’s how easy this task seemed. We were truly spoiled by riches having Secretariat in 1973 then Seattle Slew in 1977 and topping it off with Affirmed in 1978. These three horses gave the impression winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes was an easy feat. The next 37 years proved that was the furthest from reality.


I watched American Pharoah win the Kentucky Derby. He was the favorite after making a huge impact statement win in the Arkansas Derby. A bad post, number 18, hampered him, but that didn’t stop his jockey, Victor Espinosa, from bringing him home in front. The Preakness was a day that showed American Pharoah’s resilience. Shortly before the race, the clouds opened up on Pimlico creating a quagmire for American Pharoah to slog through in order to win the Preakness. He did slog through the slop and seemed to relish in it for his win in the Preakness.


Now the craziness ensued. The hopes of those of us invested in horse racing. The possibility yet again that the Triple Crown could be won was in front of us. Like watching a no hitter, while it was going on, I tried not to talk about if it could happen or what it would mean. Bob Baffert was interviewed during the week leading up to the running of the Belmont Stakes, and he said that should he win the Triple Crown he would have no idea how he would feel. How could he? The only trainer alive who won one is Billy Turner. As the three weeks developed, excitement turned to giddiness as the workouts were posted and Amerian Pharoah seemed to be getting better with each trip to the track.


Karrie and I loaded the car and headed to Belmont Park on Friday morning. Our goal was to get there for the afternoon races in time to see some friends and soak in the scenery before Belmont Day insanity set in. Well the travel gods had other plans; we made great time through the Poconos, even stopping in Wilkes Barre for lunch as we did when we would make the trip as a family. Nichols Village is still there, no longer a Howard Johnsons, but still a landmark off 81. Getting back on after lunch, we figured we would be in good shape for a midafternoon arrival. Then.. . in the middle of 80, traffic stands still. An accident in a one lane section of the highway backed us up for over an hour. Nonetheless, we made it to Floral Park, having what is becoming an annual tradition of Pre-Belmont dinner at King Umberto’s.


At the pre-Belmont party we were invited to; I was able to catch up with both Billy Turner, who had fond memories to share of when you took his photo at the Saratoga Backstretch in 1977 or 1978 (neither of us were sure) and Jean Cruget, the last living Triple Crown jockey/Trainer duo.


Making it to the track Belmont Morning was easy from the hotel we stayed at. Making our hellos and updating our badges was on the to do list. We finally settled in for the excitement that was going to ensue. Having a fun table at the Turf and Field Club made the day that much more enjoyable. We would catch up with friends in the paddock and continue to take pictures of pretty much everyone and everything.


The race was approaching. Would we get to witness history? Making my way in the paddock between races; I saw American Pharoah as he entered the paddock. He is a toned, well muscled horse who was not disturbed by the throngs of people, the likes of which I have never seen at the paddock before. I made my way back up to the table so I would be able to witness what I hoped would be history with Karrie. We stood on the landing between the Turf and Field Club and the Garden Terrace getting more and more excited as Frank Sinatra sang New York New York, we were watching something special. The vibe was vastly different from any triple crown attempt I had been to; this felt like a coronation.


American Pharoah did what any horse owner entering a race hoped for; he broke in front and improved his position. By the time he hit the top of the stretch we knew it was over; American Pharoah was going to win the Triple Crown! The noise was truly deafening; the likes of which I have never heard. It was thunderous inside safely ensconced behind glass, however the sound burst through. The celebration ensued; people dressed to the nines screaming Triple Crown, Triple Crown . .hugging, dancing and complete celebration. Euphoria rained on the crowd and the crowd soaked it in.


It was an amazing time. It was a party both of you would have loved to be. The laughs the memories and the victory were all there. Chills were sent down my spine similar to watching the Secretariat Belmont; not because the length of victory was as impressive but the euphoria was.


American Pharoah will race this year. There is a syndication agreement already done for $20 million. The winning connections; Zayat Stables, Bob Baffert and Victor Espinosa are making the rounds. The important thing to know about these people is they have found a way to give back immediately. The Zayats, the Bafferts and Victor Espinosa donated proceeds whether from the purse or endorsements it matters not, to horse related charities. The fact that these people in the height of euphoria in the game we love chose to donate to charities in and out of the game is commendable.


Will the Triple Crown winner save racing? Certainly not at tracks like Finger Lakes. Certainly not winter racing at Aqueduct. Certainly not at Charlestown or other smaller tracks. That being said, will it bring one more fan to the turnstiles? If yes, then the Triple Crown is a wonderful thing.


Mom and Dad, I wish you were there to watch this historic event take place. I wish you could have heard the crowd the like of which you hadn’t seen since your own trip to the Derby some 41 years ago. I wish you could see how technology is taking over the sport we love making handicapping easier and access greater. I wish you could be here for the aftermath, to see if the Triple Crown does create growth in the sport. I know you were watching from the best seats in the house; those on high, but it would have been great to share the emotions of this victory together.


Love you and miss you.

Categories: Horse Racing, NYRA | Leave a comment

Belmont attendee or Batman . . .you be the judge

I want to start things off by saying being at Belmont Park for American Pharoah winning the Triple Crown was an incredible experience. It sent chills down my spine listening to 90,000 all screaming for the same thing and getting what they asked for. This horse is a fantastic animal and his performance proved it.

The weekend was fabulous. The weather turned amazing. The friends who we caught up with and the new ones we made were wonderful. Thank you to all at NYRA for making the day so wonderful. Getting in and out of Belmont Park was a breeze (at least for us) compared to last year.

My father taught me one lesson in life, if given the choice between showing up and staying home, always show up. They may not notice if you were there, but they will certainly take notice of your absence. This was entirely true with respect to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. His absence, especially when the Governor of Kentucky and Maryland were there, as was former President Bill Clinton continues to highlight a disregard for the sport of kings that is palatable.

I understand there was a prison break at Dannemora State Correctional Facility in Upstate NY. I understand that Batman, er. Andy decided to climb into the pathway for the media. The last time I checked, the Governor was not a law enforcement officer. He was not a forensic scientist. He was not trained to catch these “extremely dangerous” individuals. Yet there he was . . .sport coat off, marching through the tunnel for no purpose other than to mug before the cameras. He wasn’t a crime fighter extraordinaire who was going to single handedly capture these two convicts.  The media ate it up, but nonetheless it was a farce.

Oh yes, this was at 10:00 AM, the race was not until 6:45. Even  sitting in the back of a car he could have made it to Long Island in time. However, Governor Cuomo turned his back once again on an industry that brings $5 Billion that’s with a B, worth of revenue to this state, touching all 62 counties and providing countless jobs from Queens to Canandaigua. For those of us who derive income from horse racing, whether it be the track management, the grooms, the trainers, the feed guys, the hay producers, the owners, trainers or jockeys we now understand one thing; Governor Cuomo is not our friend, he is not our ally.

President Clinton, on the other hand,  came to Belmont from one of the most solemn events possible. That was the funeral for a son of a dear friend. To go from the solemnness of the funeral for Beau Biden, not only the Vice President’s son but an admirable politician in his own right to Belmont Park was impressive. But, President Clinton understood the message about being there; he was in the boxes, he interacted with the fans and the staff. These things that he should have taught to his Secretary of HUD, or if he did were not learned by Governor Cuomo. President Clinton then and now understand that it’s all about the economy and horse racing and its ancillary business interests are about the economy.

Governor, I hope these individuals are caught. I know that evidence technicians, of which you are not, and law enforcement officers, of which you are not, are working diligently to find these men. I believe in their abilities to track them down and return them to jail. Do I believe it is the Governor’s place to deliver their post it note back to them as you said this morning with such bravado . .. nope not your job. You have an obligation to serve the people and ensure that economically we survive. Had you chosen, you could have shown up. You could have stood there with the governors of Kentucky and Maryland representing the three states where the triple crown races take place and you oould have ended the day that started in tragedy with a moment of ecstasy. If you didn’t learn from President Clinton about the importance of showing up while you were in his cabinen, maybe it’s time to learn while he is a citizen of your state.



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Monster Sponsors American Pharoah

It was announced by ESPN that American Pharoah will be sponsored by Monster energy drinks. What this means is that the cooling blanket used in the paddock before the race and on the walkover will have the Monster label on it. That is not  such a big deal, and surely worth some revenue. However there is more to the story.

The sponsorship also includes with it the right for the Monster girls to march with the horse on the walkover and around him in the paddock. What’s the big deal you say? These girls will be scantily clad according to the ESPN release. So what, says some . .. sex sells. Others say  there should not be objectification of women. I see both sides of that argument, however I’m looking at it from the perspective of a racing purist. The paddock is for owners, trainers, and horsemen. To take this place where the horses are saddled and final instructions are given is disrespectful to the sport and those owners who understand tradition.

While Mr. Zayat can do whatever he chooses to maximize the profit potential from this horse, the lack of respect for the sport is evident. While his horse may be the class of this three year old crop; clearly the class of the owner is more than suspect. It is clear that Ahmet Zayat went to the Gordon Gekko school of business, where everyone and everything has its price and for him this is the week they are willing to pay top dollar.


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Jockeys should be part of the fabric of Saratoga

On May 28, 2015, there was a public hearing in Saratoga with respect to proposed renovations to Saratoga Race Course. The full plan can be accessed here.

The plan offers some very positive proposals. For instance, there is the proposal to build a three story enclosed luxury dining facility where the existing At the Rail tent is now. This addition would be one desperately needed as it would put true luxury boxes within the confines of the track. The total renovations would take 9 years and cost 15 million dollars. One valid point raised in opposition to this proposal is that the amount of capital funding provided by VLT gaming for NYRA is 17 million over that same period, which would leave Belmont Park and Aqueduct Race Track, two facilities desperately in need of improvement with only $2 million in funding to do this.

Another, admittedly smaller, change contained in the redevelopment plan is one that would relocate the jockey’s room to a structure to be built where the saddling enclosure is now. I am old enough and have been attending Saratoga enough to vividly remember when the horses were saddled under trees in what is now the back yard. In 1981, NYRA determined that the risk of injury to fans was too great so the saddling enclosure was born.  That being said, the jockeys always traversed a path to the paddock and from the track to the jockeys room. This has been tradition and should not be upset.

I submitted the following in opposition to the proposal:

My name is Todd Engel, I am a horse owner, attorney and Saratoga box holder and attendee for 38 consecutive years. I am submitting these comments with respect to the public hearing regarding the proposed renovations that the New York Racing Association (NYRA) plans to make to Saratoga Race Course. Specifically, I am targeting these comments to the relocation of the jockey’s room from a structure near the present administrative building to a structure, as I understand it, to be build above where the present saddling enclosure is now located within the paddock.


When I first came to Saratoga, I was a child. I would get the media guide published by NYRA each year very excited about the opportunity to get one of these world class athletes to sign my book. I would stand outside the jockey’s room with other kids my age and a little older, and as the jockeys descended to the paddock walk and put pen and book in their hands. After the race was run, I and other children would stand at the pathway at the Clubhouse exit as the jocks returned to their room either asking for goggles (the ultimate prize) or signatures from the jockeys missed on the trip to the paddock.


In between races, the back of the jock’s room was open for fans to watch and interact with the jockeys. Fans could see jockeys warming up on the exerciser, playing Ping-Pong, handicapping races and just relaxing. The fans could see the jockeys weigh in before the race. They would interact with the fans rarely something seen in professional sports.


The proposed plan for the renovations to the jockeys room will take this contact away from the fans. The plan is to have the jockey’s room above the fans in the saddling enclosure. This area is restricted to only horsemen, which would diminish the access to the jockeys by the children and general fans. This would be a travesty if it were allowed to materialize. Would jockeys have a more private place to go between races, yes. Would this change the inherent nature of Saratoga for the youngest fans, absolutely.


The move to the paddock does not take into account those fans who may not be credentialed. It fails to take into consideration and true appreciation of one of the most unique aspects of Saratoga; the accessibility by fans to the trainers and jockeys. Taking this away will detract from what has been the true essence of Saratoga, the ability to connect with horse, jockey and trainer. Remember the sage words of John Hendrickson, who in an article published by the Saratogian said these words “Saratoga is the people’s track.” Do not move the jockey room and make Saratoga just another track where prospective fans lose out on contact with pound for pound the greatest athletes in sport.

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American Pharoah to stand stud at Ashford Stud

According to Bloodhorse.com, Zayat Stables owner Ahmed Zayat announced that Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner American Pharoah will be standing stud at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky after he completes his racing career. This will be, according to the article, following this three year old campaign.

Selling a successful stallion is one of the more lucrative benefits to owning a successful race horse, especially one that won at least one jewel in the Triple Crown, let alone two. A stallion farm charges fees for the right for an owner of a mare to breed to these horses. A farm can charge up to $250,000 per mare dependent upon the success of the race horse and his potential value at stud. Should American Pharoah become a Triple Crown winner after the June 6th Belmont Stakes, his value as a stallion will be unlike anything seen in recent history. As such, making a deal for his stallion services now is a smart business move, guaranteeing Zayat certain monies, with additional monies added in should there be additional races won such as the Belmont Stakes or Breeders Cup. American Pharoah was already the two year old champion and as a winner of two jewels of the Triple Crown, it is logical to make this deal now. Drafting syndication agreements is a exciting and intricate aspect of equine law.

Ashford Stud is owned by Coolmore, a very influential breeder worldwide. It not only has breeding farms in America, but also in South America where the breeding season is inverse of that of the United States. As such, the opportunities are boundless. The Zayats retained a unnamed ownership interest in the horse, which means that a percentage of the breeding fees will continue to go back to Zayat. Additionally, it is often the case that the trainer of these horses will retain at least one if not more shares of the horse. Which means, that Bob Baffert could either sell or breed to American Pharoah as he sees fit.

This deal by no means does not come without risk on the part of Ashford. For every successful stallion that won a triple crown race (AP Indy, Curlin) there have been twice as many who did not produce horses equal or surpassing their own promise. Here is hoping that American Pharoah is in the former group.

Categories: Equine Law, Kentucky Derby, Legal | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment