Whether it was arrogance, ignorance or pathetic prioritizing doesn’t really matter. The New York Racing Association’s handling of its announcement that Sunday’s racing card at Saratoga would be cancelled due to onrushing hurricane Irene marked the lowest point in NYRA’s stewardship of racing in New York since 1955. And that’s saying a lot for a non-profit association that went bankrupt and has endured one scandal after another in the past decade and a half.Ten minutes before 6 p.m., NYRA President Charlie Hayward was interviewed on NBC, which had just televised Stay Thirsty’s victory in the $1 million Travers Stakes. Hayward disclosed that NYRA was happy with the crowd of more than 43,000, even though he said it was down six or seven percent. Hayward disclosed that NBC’s Saratoga meet coverage would be back in 2012.
This was much worse. This wasn’t about horse racing; it was about people’s lives and their welfare, especially the lives and welfare of not only horsemen, but fans and the media as well.
By Saturday afternoon, practically everyone on the planet knew that Irene was going to hit not only New York City, but upstate New York, including Saratoga Springs, as well. This devastating hurricane, which had already impacted millions on the entire East Coast, was heading to New York.
By Saturday afternoon, hundreds of thousands of people had been evacuated from New York City. That decision was made Friday morning. The subway was shut down by weather for the first time ever. All five airports serving the greater New York metropolitan area were closed.
Neither of NBC’s two commentators, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens and Laffit Pincay, III, asked Hayward if NYRA was cancelling Sunday’s card because of Irene, even as Irene was bearing down on upstate New York.
The lead item on the local 6 p.m. Channel 13 (NBC) news was, of course, Irene. Irene could produce winds as high as 80 miles per hour and would impact the Capital District within six hours.
At Saratoga Race Course at precisely 6:06 p.m., Tom Durkin announced to the crowd who had stayed for the race after the Travers that Sunday racing would be cancelled.
At 6:15 p.m., NYRA issued a press release saying exactly that.
That decision to cancel, which could have, and maybe should have been made and announced on Friday, had been made by 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon. NYRA sat on announcing that decision for more than three hours.
While just about every responsible public official from North Carolina to New England had acted on Thursday or Friday to minimize the damage of this monster hurricane, NYRA ignored the fact that a huge majority of its horsemen had homes and families on Long Island, and in New York City and New Jersey who had not accommodated them for the entire, six-week Saratoga meet. Many of the New York City media were in the exact same precarious situation, a hundred and fifty miles away from their families and homes. What about the out-of-town fans who had come to Saratoga for the Travers or the weekend?
Clearly, NYRA made the decision to delay its announcement until after the Travers had been run. Heaven forbid NYRA’s handle drop a bit on Travers Day, and certainly not on the Travers itself. Only after the Travers was run, did NYRA address its fans and its horsemen and the media about Sunday’s cancellation.
In doing so, NYRA finally acknowledged that, oh yeah, there was a hurricane about to hit town which could cause fatalities and wreck people’s lives and their homes. Everyone else had strived to give potential victims as much warning and help as possible to mitigate the effect of this weather disaster.
NYRA’s conduct was an absolute disgrace.