U of L to honor Jeff Gural with Galbreath Award
« Return to News
His son, Jeff, found his way into the same business with his father, but not before earning a degree in civil engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic University, a private school located in Troy, New York, known as an incubator of promising engineers but not horse racing enthusiasts or participants.
"I got interested in harness racing as a young guy, going to the New York tracks, in particular Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island. We would gather a bunch of guys and go out and bet and drink beer and have a great time," says Gural, who admits he fell in love with horses along the way, without recognizing at the time that they, and the industry, would become one of his chief passions.
Gural began his real estate career in 1966 when he went to work for the Morse-Diesel Construction Company, joining his father's firm in 1972. "Of the things I'm grateful for, one is being born in a real estate family and another is the things I learned from my father, one of which is that to be successful in commercial real estate you need to have a long-term perspective, be in it for the long haul.
Gural would become the head of Newmark Frank in the late ‘70's, then lead it through both national expansions and international efforts that would result in a strategic partnership with Knight Frank, a London-based company in 2006. That would bring them into the international real estate business in a major way, and would lead to their acquisition by BGC Partners, a public company traded on NASDAQ.
While at age 74, Gural still manages the buildings the company owns and operates on a daily basis, he is the practical and spiritual leader of American Racing and Entertainment LLC, which operates "racinos" at Vernon Downs and Tioga Raceway in western New York, and perhaps harness racing's most glamorous facility at the Meadowlands in northern New Jersey.
"I have two Standardbred farms in New York, and a lot of horses, which I love being around and watching them," says Gural. "They have a calming effect on me!"
Not so calming are the operations of the three tracks, which have been upgraded and are marketed more than their competitors. While the "Great Recession" was damaging to the horse industry in general, its impacts on the racing industry were particularly visible through sharp declines in foal crops, drops in wagering at virtually all tracks, and cuts in race days across the country.
Gural stepped in as the owner of the two New York tracks---one senior manager at a New York track in their area credits Gural with making a bad situation tolerable. "He saved New York harness racing upstate without question. He was the indispensable guy, the person who made the difference."
As notable were his efforts at the Meadowlands, where he decided to lease the operation from the state, then leave the old plant behind and build a new facility, smaller but more promotable and usable than the prior facility. Had he done just that he would have satisfied many concerned harness industry participants who were looking for ports in the storm. However, ………………
Gural has been a strong advocate for cleaning up the sport, "making it something people can believe in again," as he puts it, and that has rubbed a number of people the wrong way. Gural has suspended trainers and owners for repeated drug use and other bad habits that he feels are not appropriate at a time when horsemen need to put on a quality show that emphasizes the best in horse care and management, and a good show, besides.
"We spend real money on marketing, on telling people why this is a good game to participate in, so we need to make sure that what we tell them is fair and accurate," says Gural, whose tone can be charming (he's a major philanthropist in New York) or blunt, but rarely both. As a self-acknowledged liberal Democrat, he knows and has known leading Democratic politicians for years, but acknowledges that the current political climate is mixed for gaming efforts, having backed a visible effort to bring a casino to the Meadowlands only to see it fall in popularity to the point he and fellow supporter Paul Fireman announced in late summer that they were backing away from the idea for the moment.
It is taking a longer time than he would like to get the stars aligned in his harness world, but he's been going down this road for awhile, so attempts to be philosophical: "We have to change in order to survive; having said that I continue to believe that change---positive change---is a possibility, and a necessity," says Gural.The Galbreath Award will be presented at the Speed Art Museum, adjacent to the College of Business, on Thursday evening, Nov. 17. (U of L)