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Keep tight reins on NYRA

You've been to Belmont Park, even if it

You've been to Belmont Park, even if it wasn't for the Belmont Stakes. The Elmont track opened in 1905, hosting countless races and concerts. Its signature event, though, is the final leg of horse racing's Triple Crown. Here, jockey Victor Espinoza rides American Pharoah to victory in the 2015 Belmont Stakes on June 6, 2015. Photo Credit: Getty Images

The New York Racing Association hasn’t gotten itself into trouble since the state took over the scandalized organization in 2012, but with those controls ending in the fall, vigilance must continue.

The NYRA board will likely be reconstituted with 15 members, but how some will be chosen is undecided as the State Legislature limps into the final days of its session. One proposal would let NYRA’s executive committee pick eight members, meaning racing insiders would be able to create a majority. The governor would get only two picks.

Instead, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants five and for the NYRA executive committee to have five. History shows Cuomo is right.

The state took the reins of NYRA — a private entity that runs the three state-owned thoroughbred tracks, Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga — to end years of mismanagement. NYRA intentionally set payouts too low, robbing bettors of millions of dollars. Some top staff members were paid more than $400,000 a year. NYRA was indicted on a charge of tax fraud. And it needed a $100 million bailout from the state. Worst of all, NYRA failed to protect horses. After 21 horses died at Aqueduct in the winter of 2011, a task force concluded that more than half of the deaths could have been prevented with proper handling.

Strict oversight is even more critical now. Redevelopment of Aqueduct and a transfer of its races to a newly energized and improved Belmont are under consideration. A fortune from video-lottery terminals is flowing to the industry. Horses, employees, bettors and taxpayers need protection.

On Saturday, horse enthusiasts and people who just enjoy a great party will stream to Belmont Park for one of the nation’s great races. It will be a reminder of what racing was, and an encouraging sign of what it could be if properly managed.

There is too much of a risk that, given the authority to be run by self-interested insiders again, NYRA could return to its old ways. The NYRA board must include knowledgeable professionals in finance, development and law who can help steer racing in the best interests of all parties.


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