06/30/2011 2:59PM

Handel's future plans uncertain

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ELMONT, N.Y. – Hal Handel, who will leave his position as the chief operating officer for the New York Racing Association in September, said Thursday that he believes his days of managing a racetrack are over.

On Wednesday, Handel in a press release announced that he would be resigning his position as COO for NYRA at the end of the Saratoga meet, which coincides with the expiration of a four-year contract he signed in 2007. Handel said it was a decision he reached in early May, but elected not to announce until now for various reasons.

“I’d like to stay in the industry in some form, candidly, at this point I don’t know what form that would be,” Handel, who turns 64 in July, said Thursday in his Belmont Park office. “I’d be very, very surprised if that form took running another racetrack.”

From 1986-98, Handel worked as an executive at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority’s Meadowlands and Monmouth Park. He left the position as Monmouth Park’s COO in 1998 to become chief executive officer at Greenwood Racing in Pennsylvania, which operates Parx Racing, formerly known as Philadelphia Park.

“You have to be realistic about yourself,” Handel said. “At 64, what’s the appetite for doing this? This is perfect timing.”

Of his time at NYRA, Handel said he is most proud of the way the company reacted to the closure of New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. last December, turning the Belmont Cafe into a successful simulcasting facility while greatly expanding NYRA’s internet and phone-account wagering.

“For a company that never had a reputation for being terribly nimble, I think what we did this winter when OTB shutdown on very short notice was great,” Handel said. “We were able to do a pretty effective job of providing a better Aqueduct experience, and getting the Belmont Cafe open and doing it very, very quickly.”

Charles Hayward, NYRA’s president and CEO, said a search will begin to find Handel’s replacement, but indicated that one may not be in place by the time Belmont’s fall meet opens in September.

“We certainly are going to do a search of some sort and that doesn’t mean in the interim we might not realign some responsibilities,” Hayward said. “We don’t have a clear path at this point. Obviously given his experience and his responsibilities here it’s a big hole to fill. We’re working on that even as we speak.”