NYTHA President Nominee Q&A: Chad Summers

Chad Summers and Mind Your Biscuits at Saratoga in 2018 | Sarah Andrew


The position of New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (NYTHA) president is up for grabs at a time of great upheaval for horse racing in the state.

Belmont Park is poised to undergo a $455-million overhaul, after which Aqueduct is set to close its doors. Within a few years, horse racing in New York will look drastically different to what it looks like today.

This is also a period of tremendous existential challenge for the sport, as evidenced by a recent 60 Minutes expose on the industry's doping problems. Among the issues figured prominently in the program was another year of high-profile equine fatalities, including 13 during the summer Saratoga meet.

One of two individuals running for the position is trainer Chad Summers, who has held a license since 2017. Before that, he held an assortment of positions in the game including hot walker, groom, foreman, racing manager, and clocker's assistant.

The TDN recently spoke both Summers and Tina Bond about their bids for NYTHA president, digging into the specifics of their platform.

First up today: Chad Summers. The following has been heavily edited for brevity and clarity.

TDN: In your biographical statement, you say that “NYTHA has not been represented by someone with boots on the ground. We need our voices heard now more than ever.” What exactly do you mean by that?

Chad Summers: When Rick Violette was in charge for years and years, his door was always open. Any time there was a question, a concern, you would be able to find him and he would either lead you in the right direction or have the answer himself.

Unfortunately, over the last six years, the management has not had skin in the game. They own very, very few horses. They're not there on the day-to-day. They've been there for the ribbon-cutting ceremonies, but they haven't been there on the Tuesdays in February. I just feel like the horsemen and women are best represented by somebody who's in the trenches with them.

TDN: You've mentioned in a prior conversation other areas of focus, including the sharply rising costs of everyday training commodities. What specific things do you have in mind to tackle those areas?

CS: NYTHA is in a unique situation because most every track is represented by an HBPA organization, which then leads to the bigger HBPA, led by Eric Hamelback. Eric can't work with New York right now because of an antiquated rule that changed back in the 1970s.

HBPA organizations have trainer co-ops designed to kind of protect their own investments or make them part-owners of businesses such as bedding or feed companies, which would allow us to cut costs and manage it ourselves. Those are things that need to be examined and looked at and priced out. Then go from there.

I was in Ohio at Mahoning Valley just last week and the cost of shavings over there was $5.59 a bag. In New York right now, I'm paying $12.18. That needs to change. When you're paying $50 for a bale of hay, $30 for a bag of feed and minimum wage is set to rise to $17 an hour in New York, it is a struggle for trainers to stay in business.

Owners are not happy paying the fees on the day rate. And they think that trainers are making money on the day rate, which I assure you they are not. We need to work together to come up with solutions to try and save costs while still allowing our horses the luxuries that they're used to and they're entitled to.

TDN: As NYTHA president, you are going to be presiding over a period of great upheaval in New York racing. Where do you see the NYTHA president's responsibilities during this whole rigmarole?

CS: My responsibility as NYTHA president is to represent my organization's views and my organization's thoughts. That's something where immediately upon becoming president, you're making these phone calls and you're talking to your constituents and figuring out what does everybody want. What does everybody see as best? How do we figure out what's going on with the turf courses? What is going on with the synthetic surfaces? What is going on with racing next year?

New York still doesn't have a [2024] calendar yet. They still haven't applied for the dates with the gaming commission if the Belmont S. is going to be at Saratoga. Are we going to stay in Saratoga for an extra month in September?

NYTHA has a seat on the [NYRA] board, which is very, very important. It's just one seat, but your voice needs to be heard in those board meetings. I think that's very important when the NYRA board is made up mainly of people in outside businesses right now that don't have the day-to-day understanding of what's going on at the racetrack.

TDN: A recent NYTHA-backed study by three interns from Yale highlighted some worrying industry-wide declines over the past 20 years. I know you haven't seen the paper, but where do you see your role in helping to reverse some broader industry declines?

CS: And it's not something along the lines of, 'well, we need fresh blood and we need new trainers and new owners.' We talk and talk and talk and talk ourselves blue in the face and nothing ever gets done. We're famous for doing that, not just at NYTHA but as a horse racing industry in general.

We represent a big majority of what's going on [nationwide]. Where we go, others follow. We have to work together with the other states and the other racetracks and the other HBPAs, which hasn't been going on. We've been trying to be Switzerland and that's not the right answer.

TDN: What specific things would you do that would make a tangible difference?

CS: For one, you start with workers' comp policies. You look into proper ways to come up with a workers' comp plan where people aren't deathly afraid of coming to race in New York with the fees that they have to pay.

We did some work where the [fees] were lowered, but it's still not where it needs to be. There's medical and dental and things of that nature where the plan that we ended up putting in place last year was not a very good plan. We could have followed suit and done what Parx [Racing] did, which has gotten rave reviews from all its members over there in Pennsylvania.

How do you get people here? How do you improve your field size? How do you improve your handle? These are all things that are based on people wanting to be here. And for a while, New York had the best purses. We would puff out our chest and we'd say, 'come to New York because it's the best of the best and we have the best purses.'

But with the slot machines and the historic slots that you're seeing in Kentucky and these other places, we can't boast that claim anymore. And people are running out of town, they're going to different places.

The races here seem to only go for the same three or four super trainers. It doesn't allow the little person to compete. You're seeing the middle trainers having to leave New York and maybe not come back.

TDN: So, what specific actions do you have in mind to help the smaller barns?

CS: It's coming to an understanding with NYRA that they need the middle trainer instead of just catering to the upper echelons to understand that everybody has a role and everybody plays a part.

They had a shipping incentive where they would pay your shipping costs in the wintertime if you came in from Parx or Fair Hill or Laurel to help offset the costs. And after a while they go, 'oh no, it doesn't make sense.' But if you analyze the numbers, it was a big deal.

Look, NYRA itself is a non-for-profit organization. But where's the motivation for NYRA to be successful if they can't see any of the profit? You have to have pride in your work. You have to love what you do.

There's a core group of people that work at NYRA that do fit that mold. So, it's working closely with those people, getting together with president Dave O'Rourke, who wants what's best for the industry. But I just feel like he needs to hear more from what the actual owners and trainers are saying more so than what certain people are saying who are trying to parlay into other jobs.

TDN: Let's shift gears to HISA. How do you see progress under this new federal law?

CS: HISA needs to understand that we have a voice in this and they rule with an iron fist sometimes. They say certain things, but then they don't always allow follow ups.

If HISA wants to be an open door, then be an open door. If you call them on the phone and you talk to somebody, you say, 'I had a good conversation with you. What's your name or your phone number or your contact information?' Their immediate response is, 'we're not allowed to give that to you.' They're the Wizard of Oz. Open lines of communication are completely missing.

Ultimately, we agree that this sport does need federal oversight. But again, 99% of the people that work with HISA have never been a part of horse racing before, and they're coming in with rules that make no sense. I'll give you a perfect example here.

They don't want you to give anything to the horse the day before the race–electrolytes or anything. You're sitting there and you're seeing horses badly bleeding and things of that nature. I brought a case up to Dr. Scollay [HIWU chief of science].

I said, 'everywhere else in the world, they're allowed to give Duphalytes the day before.' She goes, 'it has vitamins in it so you can give it to them orally in the mouth, but you can't give it in the vein.' I just don't understand that.

To me, if you're giving it in the vein, you know that it's going in there. If you're giving it orally, you don't know that it's actually going to be ingested into the horse's system. You're trying to keep them hydrated because they're going to be in a competition where they're working their hardest.

TDN: Like quite a few trainers, you've fallen foul of the program's rules on intra-articular joint injections before timed workouts. Some might read your comments about HISA as personally motivated.

CS: I'm not trying to hide anything. It wasn't like the horse tested positive for something illegal. It was literally just the system being the system. I wrote down the wrong day on my medication logs. And so, because of that, I breezed the horse a day earlier. He did not test positive for anything along those lines.

I just find it curious more so than anything else how the first time I did it, I was not given a warning or anything like that. When it first came out and there were [dozens of] trainers that [initially broke the intra-articular injection rules before a timed workout]. Those all went away, including some of the bigger Hall of Fame trainers that had it. And now the first time that I did it, right away I was given a $3,000 fine and three points, was the worst human being in the world.

TDN: Finally, what makes you think you've the experience for such a prominent position?

CS: It's a matter of passion, first and foremost. You won't find a more passionate person about this industry than me. I'm not afraid to speak my mind, as you can tell. I'm not going to sit there and sugar coat things.

Not only am a trainer, I'm an owner, I'm a bloodstock agent. I've pinhooked horses. I've done everything in this industry that you can do. I've lived in tack rooms. I've lived in my car.

I know what it's like to be the little person, but I've won $2- million races. I know what it's like to be the big person so I can sit there and feel comfortable being in anybody's shoes and having a conversation with anybody and understanding–truly, genuinely understanding–what their position is.

I'm not afraid to make a phone call, whether it's to Eric Hamelback at the HBPA. Whether it's to Aidan Butler at 1/ST. Whether it's Dave O'Rourke here at NYRA, whether it's to Dubai or Saudi Arabia or England.

But I promise, if I'm elected NYTHA President, I won't stop until every one of our members is happy. And I know everyone says it's not possible. One guy wants this and one girl wants that. But we'll do everything in our power between me and my team to make sure that everybody's needs are met.

The ballots for the NYTHA elections have already been mailed out. Voting will take place, in person or by proxy, at the NYTHA Annual Meeting, to be held on Wednesday, Dec. 27, the location yet to be decided.

Tomorrow: Tina Bond makes her case.

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