June 7, 2016
Tom Precious, Blood-Horse

John Hendrickson, who operates a Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based stable with his wife Marylou Whitney, resigned in frustration as a special adviser to the state-run New York Racing Association’s board of directors.

Saying Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not listened to his advice and has taken actions hurting NYRA and the racing industry, Hendrickson said June 7 he was given no choice but to leave his post.

His departure comes as a decision is expected to be made in the next week at the state Capitol about how—and if—to return NYRA into private hands after a four-year period in which the corporation’s board has been controlled by Cuomo appointees.

“He’s a longtime friend and this was a very hard decision to make. But Marylou and I were solely disappointed. We expected better,’’ Hendrickson said of Cuomo.

Cuomo in 2012 appointed Hendrickson as special adviser when the state, under a Cuomo plan, began what was to have been a three-year control period of NYRA.

Hendrickson criticized Cuomo on a host of matters, including this year’s budget that permits Nassau County Off-Track Betting Corp. to install video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Racetrack’s existing casino and for what he says are plans by the administration to reduce purse payments at NYRA tracks.

“I really have Saratoga as my main goal. My loyalty is to Saratoga, not the governor. … I just can’t be complacent,’’ Hendrickson said.

The industry insider said the state made a deal during the administration of Gov. Eliot Spitzer to relinquish its land claims on Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course racetracks in return for a franchise extension.

“They gave up $1 billion worth of land … The state can’t unilaterally dry up money,’’ Hendrickson said. He added that a proposal being considered to tap into NYRA purses will set the state’s breeding industry back. “It’s hard for someone to plan to start a business in breeding if you don’t know what the game is going to be 10 years down the road.”

Hendrickson said he called Cuomo two weeks ago to tell him of his concerns, but never got a call back. He said he phoned Cuomo’s chief of staff at 10 a.m. Tuesday to tell him of his resignation.

“We thank Mr. Hendrickson for his service and wish him well,’’ said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi. “The governor and the Legislature saved NYRA from yet another bankruptcy in 2012 and installed a board and management team that, by every metric, has been a success. We seek to continue this progress.’’

Hendrickson said NYRA has improved its finances, but that was going to occur with or without the state’s intervention because of the growth in revenues received following the opening of the Aqueduct casino.

“For the governor to say ‘I saved racing’ is like taking your friend out on a boat and throwing him over with concrete sneakers and rescuing him,’’ Hendrickson said.

A deal has yet to be reached on the composition of a re-privatized NYRA board. Legislators say they do not favor a plan quietly advanced by Cuomo that would give him much control over the not-for-profit racing corporation. The 2016 legislative session in New York ends June 16.

“I just didn’t feel like I could do my job if he wasn’t listening. It turned out to be a nightmarish game of whack-a-mole,’’ Hendrickson said of his time serving as the NYRA board special adviser.