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NYRA Board Faces Leadership Crisis Ahead Of Belmont Stakes

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The New York Racing Association (NYRA) hopes to continue to operate the Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct tracks.

American Pharoah will run for the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes this weekend, but ahead of New York’s premier horse racing event, the board governing the sport is in turmoil.

Less than a week before thousands of racing fans will pack into Belmont Park on Saturday, the New York Racing Association board of directors is in the spotlight for nothing to do with horse racing’s first potential Triple Crown in almost four decades. Instead, the board is facing a leadership crisis less than two months before the Saratoga meet.  

Anthony Bonomo spoke at NYRA’s April board meeting after he was selected to succeed reorganization board chair Dr. David Skorton.

‘We all collectively have an obligation to work together to make our sport, New York racing, the best it can be,” said Bonomo at the April meeting.

But after recent reports that linked Bonomo to former New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who resigned the leadership position to fight federal corruption charges, Bonomo submitted a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo announcing his leave of absence.

The recently indicted Skelos is accused of arranging a $100,000 “no-show” job for his son Adam Skelos. Although not mentioned by name, Bonomo and his company were referenced in the indictment.

Bonomo has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Bonomo said in his letter he didn’t want “recent events distract from the ongoing work of NYRA.”

Appearing on WAMC’s Capitol Connection program, New York Daily News Albany Bureau Chief Ken Lovett said Bonomo, who is now cooperating with federal investigators, is a big player in Albany politics.

“This is a guy who has given big money to pretty much every major player in New York politics. Whether it’s Cuomo, the Senate Republicans, Scheiderman – the Attorney General, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, he’s a big player. A big donor, anyway.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo was brief with reporters on Bonomo while making a visit to Long Island this week.

“I support NYRA’s decision and his decision,” said Cuomo.

NYRA spokesman John Durso in an emailed statement Thursday announced that Michael DelGiudice would “preside over Board Meetings until a Chair is appointed.”

DelGiudice was selected as Vice Chair at April’s board meeting. NYRA would not comment on Bonomo's leave of absence.

Meanwhile, organizers are hoping this weekend’s events at Belmont Park go a bit smoother than last year. More than 102,000 attended to root on California Chrome’s unsuccessful Triple Crown bid. California Chrome lost to Tonalist and the exiting fans caused traffic jams and snarled public transportation for hours. Some parking lots were still at a standstill long after sunset.

Governor Cuomo was one of the many hoping for a different outcome this year.

“Hopefully we’ll have a different result. I was there and it was wholly unacceptable last year,”  said Cuomo.

In April, NYRA CEO Chris Kay said NYRA and Long Island Rail Road’s collective $5 million in upgrades to Belmont’s train platforms would help solve traffic woes.

“This will increase Belmont Station train capacity    from eight cars to 10 cars per train, and further speed the LIRR’s operations to move customers in and out in a more efficient manner.”

Attendance at the event has been limited to 90,000 fans. In addition, NYRA hopes a concert in the winner’s circle after the last race will prevent fans from rushing home and decrease traffic.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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