The New NYRA

by Ed Meyer

posted on January 24, 2009 in General Discussion | 1 Comment >>

The New York Racing Association (NYRA) has been in existence for more than five decades. For most of that period, it has been the embodiment of conservatism, reflecting the nature of Thoroughbred racing.

The thought that anything connected to the association might ever be hip, or cool, is akin to the notion that former Vice President Dick Cheney will soon be partying down with Fergie.

It wasn’t that long ago when the NYRA had no Superfectas, and just one Trifecta wager per day. It was one of the last racing venues to switch to color-coordinated saddle cloths, so race watchers could better follow the progress of their horse. It took former Chairman Barry K. Schwartz, someone who knew a little about style from his tenure as top man at Calvin Klein, Inc., to get that job done.

Recently, however, NYRA has begun to exhibit signs it is trying to connect with younger people, as well as its core clientele.

If you go to its Internet homepage,, you will discover a pantheon of banners promoting a variety of web pages and links.

The place to start is with NYRA’s Youtube channel. There you will find four primary topics.

The newest is a series called “On The Record.” It currently has video profiles of four New York horsemen: Pat Kelly, Bruce Levine, Carlos Martin, and Billy Turner. These are candid conversations, and each has its own highlight.

Pat Kelly describes how racing has been a family affair for the Kellys. He worked under his father, Hall of Fame trainer Tom Kelly, then went out on his own in the 1970s. Pat underscores the nature of family aspect by revealing that his dad discovered that now-retired stable star Evening Attire liked one specific type of apple.

The Bruce Levine interview is different. Levine, who has teamed with local resident Roddy Valente for “15 years or so,” talks about how training horses comes natural to some people, but not for him. “I’ve got to put a lot of time in,” Levine says, to get the results the naturals achieve.

Wistfully, Bruce describes how, “I love what I’m doing, but…I don’t have time to do anything else.”

Carlos Martin was know as “Computer Carlos” when younger. That was a moniker hung on him because of his penchant for filing records on a personal computer. His “On The Record” profile reflects a more mature individual.

For starters, Carlos reiterates the family aspect of training Thoroughbreds. He is descended from a Hall of Fame grandfather, the legendary Frank (Pancho) Martin. Carlos’ father, Jose, trained many great horses as well. Martin talks about how they influenced his life.

Carlos also has a message for those who criticize winter racing in New York. After pointing out purse levels remain high at Aqueduct, he says, “There is still no better racing any place out there than New York at this time of the year.”

Billy Turner conditioned Seattle Slew to the Triple Crown in 1977. Interestingly, Turner pays tribute to Frank Martin as well. After describing how Pancho could evaluate a horse with a look, without benefit of touching the animal, he says, “That’s what I call a horseman.”

Turner shares a theme with Levine, the inability of the modern Thoroughbred to hold up to racing and training. “Horses that we’re breeding today can’t take as much training as the ones years ago,” Turner said. “We have to change our training methods accordingly,” he added.

What really makes the Turner piece worth hearing are his comments about the Seattle Slew era. Billy would eventually be fired as the colt’s trainer. That may have been on his mind when he said, “I couldn’t do anything right (with Slew), I could only make a mistake. Make a mistake (with a horse of that stature) and they’ll bury you.”

That alone makes hearing “On The Record” worth the time invested.

Just one question, though. The producer of the segments must have had a car fixation. The interview subjects ended up in their vehicles part of the time. What’s up with the cars?

Other series on NYRA’s Youtube channel are “Trips and Traps”, “NYRA Jockey Video Cards”, and a collection of NYRA stakes races.

The stakes segment includes several of recent vintage, as well as some from the classic era of New York racing.

“Trips and Traps” is a weekly program hosted by NYRA morning linemaker Eric Donovan and handicapper Andy Serling. Each week’s edition is divided into two segments, apparently a requirement of uploading video to Youtube.

Donovan and Serling provide fans with visual analysis of horses who might come back to run well at a price, and others who could be overbet off trouble more illusory than real. Whether you agree with their assessments or not, it is an interesting show.

The so-called “Jockey Cards” are segments lasting two to three minutes. In them, the riders introduce themselves to New York fans, talking about their likes and dislikes. Among the jocks covered are veteran favorites Richard Migliore and Johnny Velazquez.

The most-viewed cards are those of apprentices Jacqueline Davis and Maylan Studart. To my surprise, Davis, the daughter of retired New York favorite Robbie Davis, has garnered more viewings than Studart, dubbed the Brazilian Bombshell by some publications.

NYRA has also established a presence on the social networking site Facebook. At last check more than 1,300 people had signed up as fans.

NYRA’s Facebook site has more of the classic race videos, as well as providing announcements and news notes for those who want to keep up with happenings at the track. It’s an Internet billboard of sorts.

So, if NYRA is hooking up with the in-crowd, what’s next — President Charley Hayward donning a muscle shirt to show off his tatts?