Just in time for the summer matinee season, we are witnessing an encore performance from the dark comedy duo of Joe Faraldo, the New York horseman's representative, and Ed Martin, head of Racing Commissioners International.
Their nasty public exchange over a new Interstate Racing and Wagering Compact is notable not just because of how unseemly it is but because of how sharp and powerful an example it is of the disharmony and selfishness which permeate the sport.
Having achieved relative success for his clients, and wanting New York to remain largely its own fiefdom, Faraldo is opposed to state legislation that would create the new compact. "This bill," he wrote, "would cede and vest significant regulatory control over New York's critically important racing industry to a new multistate entity with no duty to protect the well-being and specific interests of New York's horsemen, breeders or racetracks." Faraldo's otherwise artless and hyperbolic press release-you would have thought the new compact was the British Stamp Act of 1765-- was then dutifully re-posted (without analysis, commentary or context) by harness racing websites around the word.
The response to Faraldo's stink-bomb was left to Commissioner Martin. He expressed "shock" (it was, curiously, also in quotation marks in the original release) at what he called the "misinformation" contained in Faraldo's screed. "The bill pending before the New York Legislature is nothing more than a proposal to allow government to operate more efficiently and potentially eliminate redundancies that have proven costly to New York horsemen and imposed unnecessary burdens on those who also race in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere," Martin said.
"The State Racing and Wagering Board does not have any less authority or more authority than it now has under state statue under this compact proposal. It is not accurate to tell people that officials in other states will be making decisions affecting New York horsemen. It is also not accurate to imply that horsemen will not have an opportunity to be involved in the policy formation process or will lose their right to review, comment and influence any proposed action of the New York Racing and Wagering Board through the compact," Martin added.
And then the man who started the pissing contest in the first place returned to the online forum to issue another press release. With an apparent straight face, Faraldo wrote: "It is truly regrettable that New York's harness horsemen are being disparaged in press releases for doing nothing more than standing up and asking for more information about legislation that will impact them, their sport and their livelihoods for years to come... Our sole interest is in protecting the well-being of our New York State racing industry and its horsemen," Faraldo continued, "and the answers we have received to numerous outstanding concerns with the bill simply do not give us the comfort to support this bill at this time."
Alas, even as the sport's feed trough gets smaller and smaller the pigs fight for a bigger share-- rather than fighting for a bigger trough. New York's horsemen shouldn't be outlandishly rejected a racing compact proposal. They should be using the legislative initiative as an opportunity to help lead the country's harness racing tracks in the direction of meaningful reform. Is the proposed legislation perfect? Of course not. Is there room for negotiation? Perhaps. But the last thing harness racing needs right now is a "me-first" attitude. And there is nothing about Faraldo's work here that doesn't reek of a "me-first" attitude.
On reform, on a new compact, on centralization, New York's horsemen should lead, follow, or get out of the way. These exchanges and the philosophy behind them aren't just embarrassing; they are detrimental to the sport.
News and notes:
A driver accepting gifts for providing information to a gambler? A driver making false statements under oath to regulatory agents? I'll be focusing in my next column on the race-fixing allegations in Michigan, which some feel is the death knell for harness racing in that state. We've focused for the past few months on racing integrity and allegations of horse doping. But in many ways this is just as bad, if not worse.
Andrew Cohen is a Standardbred owner, breeder and writer.