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Showing posts from February, 2010

New Jersey's Brave Initiative

To those of us inured to the tortoise-like pace with which anything relating to racing moves through the New York state government, New Jersey may be a revelation. After less than two months in office, incoming NJ Governor Chris Christie has apparently pulled together a plan that radically reshapes racing in the Garden State and that might even work.
According to press reports, a seven-member commission appointed by Christie has a plan that will end thoroughbred racing at the Meadowlands, and refocus racing at Monmouth, with three-day racing weeks and hugely improved purses -- as much as $1 million a day, topping even stakes-heavy Saratoga's daily average of more than $700,000. The plan, which is reportedly ready to be introduced next week, already has the approval of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the agency that runs the two tracks. There are conflicting reports as to whether the New Jersey horsemen agree. According to Dave Grening in the Daily Racing Form, they…

HONOLULU JOINS THE RANKS OF NEWSPAPER MONOPOLY CITIES

I was sorting through some of my father’s belonging recently and came across the 1941 souvenir edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Jan 8, 1941), “The March of Hawaii.” Its lead story was the reorganization and strengthening of the Pacific Fleet and the appointment of Admiral H.E. Kimmel to head it.

My father acquired the paper while stationed in Hawaii with the Army Air Corps. Eleven months later the U.S. was at war, with Kimmel taking heat for having the bulk of his capital ships anchored in Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack.

I was reminded of the find this week while reading the news that Gannett has agreed to sell the Honolulu Advertiser to the Star-Bulletin. The two have a 130-year history of competition, somewhat muffled until they escaped their relatively difficult marriage in a joint operating agreement between 1960s and the millennium. Now the smaller paper is buying the bigger paper, if it can comply with or skirt antitrust provisions.

We are now in the last throes of …

NYRA Salaries

Congratulations to NYRA on, albeit reluctantly, releasing the salary data for its top executives. In an age when all sorts of information is available at the push of a computer key or click of a mouse -- it took me all of five minutes to find comparable salaries at Churchill, Magna and Penn National -- NYRA Chairman Steve Duncker's excuse that the salaries were kept secret "for competitive reasons" rings a little hollow. Nonetheless, it's good to see NYRA recognize that its status as a quasi-public entity demands a lot more transparency than is required even of a publicly listed for-profit corporation.

And, make no mistake, NYRA is, for all practical purposes, a public entity. It's franchise deal with the state, under which NYRA gave up its (contested) claim to own the land its race tracks are built on, made it clear that NYRA is the entity through which New York State chooses to operate its (the state's) tracks. All the rest is window-dressing. Not that hand…

Maryland Bidders Respond to Blood-Horse Queries

Three of the leading bidders for the Maryland Jockey Club's assets -- Jeff Seder of Blow Horn Equity LLC, David Cordish of the Cordish Companies, and Joe DeFrancis -- have each responded to questions posed by The Blood-Horse's Evan Hammonds. While the answers all contain a fair bit of puffery, the three interviews do show some fundamental differences in orientation. It probably won't matter a lot in the bankruptcy court. The court's job is to get the most money it can for Magna Entertainment's creditors, rather than worrying about the future of Maryland racing. But it's still instructive to analyze those differences, if only so we have some idea what to expect once we know who the winning bidder is.
[For those who want to read the full interviews, they can be found here (Seder), here (Cordish) and here (DeFrancis). For a quick way to decide who'd be best for Maryland racing, just look at the photos and see who you're most likely to trust.]
Disclosure: I&…

Transparency at NYRA? Not yet, it seems.

The fallout from the New York Racing Association's last public-relations blunder -- first resisting NY State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's request for financial records, then under pressure, turning around and saying it would cooperate with DiNapoli's audit -- continues. Now state budget director Robert Megna, in his capacity as chair of the Oversight Board appointed to ride herd on NYRA when the latter's franchise was renewed back in 2008, wants to know how much NYRA CEO Charlie Hayward and his top assistants are being paid. And once again, NYRA seems to be stonewalling.
According to press reports, in 2006, when NYRA was required to disclose some of its finances as part of its bankruptcy proceeding, Hayward made $377,746, and, even more astonishingly, NYRA general counsel Pat Kehoe made $376,923. Since then, NYRA has replaced the almost certainly underpaid day-to-day operations manager Bill Nader -- who took the money and ran to Hong Kong -- with Hal Handel, who presuma…

THE BATTLE TO CONTROL ONLINE PRICES

The struggle to control prices of digital content sold online continues, with producers and distributors battling over prices for downloads of books and music.

In the latest skirmish, Amazon removed Macmillan books from its website after the company protested that online retail was using monopoly power to force publishers to accept prices no higher than $9.99. Macmillan and other publishers have now signed distribution deals with Apple that allows them to price downloads at $12.99 and $14.99.

Producers, of course, want higher prices because they produce higher revenue and better profits.

The struggle to control prices is not unique to the online environment. In the offline world, producers of books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs have long struggled to gain limited shelf space because there is a large oversupply of products and retailers’ have selection preferences for popular, rapidly selling products.

Large national and retailers have also used their bargaining power to push wholesale and …