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Cuomo takes reins in state racing reform

Gov. Andrew Cuomo believes his reorganizing the New York Racing Association will help eliminate corruption from horse racing.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Now that’s a horse of a different color.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced appointments to the New York Racing Association Reorganization Board last Thursday, putting in place a temporary, publicly controlled body to transform management of thoroughbred racing in the state.

“With the new leadership of the NYRA Reorganization Board, we have an enormously accomplished group to assist us in making New York thoroughbred racing the best in the country,” Cuomo said. “The new board is charged with reforming NYRA for the benefit of taxpayers, fans, track workers, jockeys and the horses themselves.”

The NYRA Reorganization Board consists of 17 directors: eight appointed by the governor, two directors each appointed by the state Senate and state Assembly and five directors appointed by the former NYRA Board.

The Reorganization Board, which the governor said will be in effect for three years, will conduct a national search for a new CEO and general counsel for NYRA. After the board concludes its search, NYRA will revert back to majority private control. Seven of the appointees are new to the NYRA board and bring experience from the entertainment, finance and legal fields in addition to horse racing.

NYRA’s former president and CEO, Charles Hayward, was fired in May, along with general counsel Patrick Kehoe. Hayward was ousted when state investigators accused him of knowingly overcharging bettors by more than $8 million over a 15-month period.

Cuomo named David Skorton, president of Cornell University, as chairman of the Reorganization Board.

“Horse racing is an integral part of our state’s culture and economy, and I am honored to be joining the talented members of the New York Racing Association Reorganization Board to improve the industry for the horses, jockeys, back stretch workers, horse owners, bettors and all who enjoy racing and make it happen,” said Skorton. “With the collective strengths and abilities of my fellow board members, I know we can expand New York state’s global leadership in thoroughbred racing, and I look forward to helping achieve this important goal.”

Other new members named by Cuomo include celebrity chef Bobby Flay, a thoroughbred owner; film producer Jane Rosenthal, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival and chief executive officer of Tribeca Enterprises; Barnes & Noble Chairman Leonard Riggio; Anthony Bonomo, of the Administrators for the Professions, an insurance management company; investment adviser and lawyer Vincent Tese; Joseph Spinello, managing director of Navigant, a business advisory consulting firm; and Robert Megna, the governor’s budget director.

The governor’s takeover of NYRA comes at a time when horse racing in general is under intense scrutiny after an unusual number of equine deaths last year at Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park.

“The thrill of the races should exist in tandem with the health and safety of the horses involved and with sound business practices,” said Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman J. Gary Pretlow (D-Yonkers). “Under the guidance of the Reorganization Board, I am confident that NYRA will regain the public’s confidence, protect horses and riders and sustain the thousands of jobs dependent on New York’s growing racing industry.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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