04/15/2009 11:00PM

New exec likes what he sees


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Looking at his resume, it is easy get the idea that the new director of racing at Hastings, Paul Ryneveld, has had a hard time holding down a job. This will be his seventh job in the racing industry since he graduated from the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program in 1995.

"I am hoping it's my last," said Ryneveld.

He started out in the Arizona Department of Racing before working at Sunland Park in New Mexico, Great Lakes Downs in Michigan, back to Sunland, then Emerald Downs and Fairplex.

The good news for the local racing community is that all of Ryneveld's career moves were because of better opportunities, and he likes what he sees at Hastings.

Ryneveld left his position as director or racing at Emerald Downs to work at Fairplex in 2007 as the equine manager.

"The reason I went to Fairplex was because of the planned expansion there," he said. "When the economy hit the skids, and the stock market fell, and California went into a $15 billion shortfall, nobody wanted to spend money on the expansion of Fairplex. That was really my main focus there. I am bullish about Hastings. There is a sound betting clientele here, this place has been here for years, and now you throw in the alternative gambling, we should be able to grow everything together."

Ryneveld believes the way forward is to put on top-notch racing.

"I think we have the opportunity to really improve our product," he said. "This is a solid, stable place, and you can't say that about too many other tracks right now."

With Ryneveld's extensive experience, nobody should be surprised that he wanted to institute a few changes in the way business is done at Hastings. One of the major changes this year is that horsemen will enter for both Saturday and Sunday on Wednesdays.

"The whole point is to try and balance the cards," he said. "We can add extra races if it's a big day, or we can try and equalize the cards if one looks a lot better than the other. The main thing is that we can really maximize the horses we have over the two days. Our goal is to have both days filled by 10 o'clock."

There have also been a few minor changes to the condition book.

"We are trying to make our program consistent with Emerald and Alberta," Ryneveld said. "That's why we now have a $17,500 claiming price. The optional $25,000 is consistent with Emerald's first condition. We didn't make major changes. We have a pretty good spread from bottom to top as far as the levels go. Nothing is set in stone, so there could be more changes, but we aren't looking to add more categories."

This isn't the first time Ryneveld has been involved in the racing office at Hastings. Part of his curriculum at the University of Arizona was an internship at a racetrack. He interned in the Hastings racing office in 1994.

"I had worked in concessions and in the backstretch at Longacres while I was going to the University of Washington," said Ryneveld. "But my time at Hastings was my first real exposure to every facet of the industry, particularly the racing end of things. I learned a lot here."

Ryneveld has made a positive impression with horsemen.

"He seems like a very intelligent guy," said Mel Snow, president of the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "He brings a lot to the table, and he's open to discussion when we don't see eye to eye. He seems to fit in nicely here and I think he'll help move things forward."

Purses close to level

Despite the downturn in the economy and a drop in simulcast wagering over the winter, purses at Hastings have held their own. Some of the bottom-level purses have been reduced, but all of the other categories have remained the same. It balances out to about a 2 percent reduction. The purses are still higher than they were at the beginning of last year.

According to Raj Mutti, general manager at Hastings, the simulcast handle is down about 10 percent at Hastings, but province-wide there has only been a 2 percent decrease.

"I feel pretty good about our purse structure, especially when I see other tracks cutting their purses by 10 to 15 percent," he said. "We have made some changes, but it's been more of a redistribution than anything. Plus we have added five days of racing."

Mutti is hoping a change in marketing tactics will help bring more people to the track this year.

"We're going to be more Internet-based in our marketing," he said. "We are looking at using vehicles like Facebook and Twitter. Our goal is to attract a younger crowd"

Not everything is rosy, though. Hastings is a much leaner operation than it was last November.

"There have been major cutbacks in our staff," said Mutti. "Like any business in this economy, we are very cognizant of what we are spending our money on. One good thing coming out of all of this is that Hastings is a much more efficient operation, and we should be able to weather the storm."