Three weeks ago, Charles Hayward, NYRA’s president and CEO, drew first blood in another pitched skirmish with the State of New York, threatening to shutter the racetracks after the Belmont Stakes was run if the State didn’t begin funneling money from the proposed Aqueduct racino to the franchise soon. Two weeks ago, NY Breeders president Jeff Cannizzo attended an OTB hearing at the Capitol with a tombstone in tow, denoting the death of horse racing in the State if horsemen didn’t get their share from the bankrupted entity.
These were two recent attempts made by horse racing’s leaders to use fiscal miseries to achieve legislative leverage. And there was more of the same acrimony in the news following that. Hayward rejected an order by Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli to hand over the books so that DiNapoli could confirm where the last batch of money New York gave the sport had gone. A subpoena came down and Hayward gave in. A week later, NYRA was found dumping manure into Jamaica Bay. How much shit can the game shovel before nobody cares?
“I’m not really sure how much the people who like coming to the track care about all the political stuff going on,” Silver said, when I asked him about the fallout of fans from these unflattering rows. “I know I didn’t pay much attention to it, when I started going to the track when I was 18,” he confessed, while attempting to credit Aqueduct for boosting its attendance above the 1000 visitors count on the day that I called him.
Unlike Silver, Cannizzo perceives that collateral damage occurs from waging open warfare. Yet, he’s willing to try just about anything to have his message heard, even claiming annihilation. Putting the horse before the sport, the breeders’ leader said, “The best way to keep horse racing is to keep horses. One of our biggest concerns is the fans. But without the horses, there won’t be fans.” The question, then, I suppose, is of what importance are fans to the horses? The paradoxical problem is not an easy one to wrestle with.
Chuck Ebeling, the former head of public relations at McDonald’s and Baxter Labs, defined Hayward’s “going out of business” pronouncement and Cannizzo’s tombstone pilgrimage as public relations stunts. In defending the practice, he said, “A stunt is something you do when you don’t think the facts will be given the attention they deserve.” He said, furthermore, “It is typically the act of some desperation.” Good public relations are about being part of a good communications strategy, Ebeling added.