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Why Gov. Cuomo Seized the Reins of New York's Slipping Sport of Kings

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All eyes are turning to Belmont race track, where I'll Have Another will be running for the Triple Crown on June 9. Will he create a magical New York moment, becoming the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to pull off the trick? Or will he become the 12th 3-year-old in the post-Affirmed era to win the Derby and Preakness, then poop out in the long Belmont homestretch?

Remember Funny Cide? Big Brown? Me neither. Lose the Belmont and you're just an also-ran, an equine version of Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.

The one thing everybody appears to agree about is that New York fans of horse racing need a good diversion. The whole thing is a mess. This week Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he was taking control of the state's horse racing operation. The very fact that he got no resistance from the Assembly's Democratic leaders and the Senate's Republicans is a demonstration of how eager everybody is to let someone else take the blame.

Lately we've had a scandal over whether the operators of the New York tracks had been underpaying bettors, and a really grisly surge in deaths and breakdowns of the horses themselves.

Before that, there was the crisis over the off-track betting parlors, which had actually begun to lose money. Even New York's extremely tolerant taxpaying public was not expecting to have to fork over money to keep gambling operations alive. In 2009 OTB filed for bankruptcy -- the betting parlors claimed bankruptcy protection -- and after one of those inevitable stand-offs in the state legislature, the 50-plus OTB outlets in New York City were closed.

Racing as a sport is falling apart in the United States. Remember Luck? That was the HBO series that was supposed to bring viewers into the real world of the track. And I guess it did, because the viewers fled in droves. Meanwhile, three horses died during production.

To save the three New York tracks and the pathetic remnants of the OTB system, Cuomo gutted the New York Racing Association, which he said "never really worked." Given the fact that the NYRA has been in operation since the 1950s, that's a lot of dysfunction, even for this state. He and the legislators are appointing a new board, which will in theory do better.

Why is Cuomo even trying to save the tracks? Lately they've been less about racing than video casinos. And while I know you probably nurture fond memories of Sea Biscuit, let's face it. You don't go to the track yourself. You don't know anybody who goes to the track. If somebody you knew told you they went to the track, you'd re-evaluate the relationship.

A likely reason the governor has taken over horse racing stems from a desire to bring gambling casinos into the state big time, and Cuomo wants to get his hands on all the existing pieces of legal gaming in New York. Also, the three New York tracks support a complicated economy that includes upstate horse farms -- and everybody likes an upstate horse farm. The track at Saratoga is also central part of the area's summer tourist industry.

But for starters, I'm willing to go out on a limb and suggest that it probably isn't really necessary to have two thoroughbred race tracks in Queens.