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NYRA board looking for shorter winter race week, new top executive
NEW YORK – The New York Racing Association Reorganization Board lived up to its name Friday, agreeing to apply for a shorter racing schedule at Aqueduct for the winter while accepting the resignation of current NYRA president Ellen McClain and announcing the formation of a committee to select her replacement.
All of this as well as some lively debate between board members Bobby Flay and Rick Violette regarding the quality of racing at Aqueduct took place during a 2 1/2-hour meeting of the NYRA board Friday afternoon in midtown Manhattan.
With a shortage of horses from which to pull from – field size is down to 6.9 horses per race from 7.9 last winter – and the publicity over five fatal breakdowns in the first 25 days of Aqueduct’s inner-track meeting, the NYRA board agreed to authorize a four-day race week to replace its current five-day week. It was unclear when the four-day week would begin, but it is likely to start the first week of February.
“We’re putting safety ahead of finance,” said NYRA board member Anthony Bonomo, who chairs the board’s safety committee, which proposed the change.
In order to go to a shorter week, NYRA has to get current legislation changed that requires it to schedule 95 cards from Dec. 1 through May 1. This year, there were 97 cards scheduled during that time period.
P.J. Campo, NYRA’s racing secretary, welcomed the flexibility to go to four days a week, citing the fact there are only 1,700 horses stabled between Aqueduct and Belmont. Further, he said that shippers from the Mid-Atlantic region to New York are down 75 percent since NYRA implemented new medication rules, especially tougher restrictions regarding the administration of clenbuterol.
“I think it’s the right decision, I think four days is adequate,” said Campo, noting that tracks such as Santa Anita, Laurel, and Parx run four days a week, while Turfway Park and Penn National run three days a week.
Campo said by going to four days a week it will not be necessary to reduce the number of races run per day from nine. In fact, Campo said Aqueduct would start running 10 races each Saturday with the Feb. 2 card.
Campo said he would sit down with McClain and Rick Violette, the head of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, to discuss the schedule.
Though McClain announced her resignation as NYRA president and COO at the meeting, she will stay on until the end of March or April to assist in the transition.
NYRA chair David Skorton, who thanked McClain for her service, formally announced a search committee to find a new president and CEO for NYRA. NYRA has been without a president since Charles Hayward was fired in May after it was learned that NYRA was overcharging its bettors by 1 percent in takeout for certain wagers.
Skorton will chair a committee that includes members Bobby Flay, Jane Rosenthal, Stuart Janney, and Earl Mack.
Skorton would not identify a timetable for when a new president and CEO would be hired, but said that some work has already been done, “including categories of people that should be looked at.”
Speaking of Hayward, it was revealed at the board meeting that he is owed $460,000 in compensation and $144,000 in attorney’s fees. At the meeting, however, NYRA agreed not to pay that money until a report of the takeout issue from the state’s Inspector General is released. It was also announced that Pat Kehoe, NYRA’s counsel who was fired in May, is due $413,000 in severance as well as $55,800 in attorney’s fees. His payment was also deferred.
Though NYRA will have a shorter race week, talk about replacing the inner track with a synthetic surface barely got off the ground.
“We decided not to pursue, at least right now, changing the surface on the inner track at Aqueduct,” Skorton said after the meeting. “That shows that this board is responsive to input including from the media and from the public.”
The board also has members who aren’t afraid to speak their minds.
Flay, the celebrity chef and a Thoroughbred owner, citing the poor quality of racing at Aqueduct in the winter, said, “If it was up to me we wouldn’t race in the winter at Aqueduct.”
That met with consternation from Violette, who is not a voting board member, and Barry Ostrager, a New York breeder and owner.
“Even you realize not everybody can eat steak and lobster year-round – you got 11 hamburger joints,” Violette said. “We are not in the trash heap. We have a good product that we need to move forward.”
Said Ostrager: “Get away from the sound bites and be a little practical.”
Later in the meeting, Flay said that he feels his role on the board is coming up with ideas to improve the ontrack racing experience for customers.
“If you guys don’t want to do that, you don’t need me here,” Flay said. “I’m here to help create the experience, the experience I know people want. It’s infectious. When I take people to racetrack they’re hooked.”
Flay also mentioned the possibility of putting high-end restaurants as well as retail shops at Belmont Park, akin to those in place at Gulfstream Park in south Florida.
NYRA does plan on enhancing its product for all of its customers by announcing it will be purchasing 13 high-definition cameras.
NYRA’s budget also includes putting in Trakus at its three tracks later this year.
4 days a week sounds fine as long as the quality improves, Saturdays cards are not so enticing and exciting anymore. Are you going tohave enough quality horses (dont have to be stakes horses) to fill those Saturday 10 race cards ? throw an abundace of NY bred races at me on Saturdays and another track will get my money.
aqueduct winter racing though much diminished over the years still -- for ny otb bettors, beats the hell out of playing tracks like laurel, parx, turfway, oaklawn, etc. ny bettors follow riders, trainers, etc. flay's comment regarding no winter racing shows how he thinks all too clearly, as does his comment about how people get hooked on racing when he takes them, the man has an ego problem, what's he on a racing board for anyway, its the bettors who keep the game alive, who wants a dubai type game with no gambling allowed, who comes out just to watch the races if unable to place a bet. so think first of the welfare of the horseplayer, and right no trakus, what crap is that, just put up the number and the odds and even the name below the screen. no synthetic either, isnt the casino at aqueduct bad enough. what a sewer that place is in person, not enough windows open, the guards do nothing about crowd control, please folks, try and preserve whats' good about the game before you ruin the experience like our government has ruined the experience of being an american
bobby flay stay in the kitchen,high end restaurants and retail shop REALLY. would the restaurants be owned by you also.is that the reason you are on the board to push your own personal agenda. please no trackus and split screens not needed, spend the money on making improvements to the tracks
i think bobby should stick with food that is his expertice,what hes problely looking is to put a high end eating place ,what is he doing there he started not to long ago with horse racing.the NYRA is so mest up that they are ones killing racing in new york,& of course the new motto is,this is for your own good.they can cut racing to 4 days for safety reasons but this is horse racing & acccidents are always going to happen no matter what,they are not running a church, & the take out is horrible.only in new york
What strucks me most is that, some or more trainers, do not care for breakdowns at all. They only think of the money to be made. But for making money they need sound horses. The dead ones, are not helping anymore.
once again, there are way too many breakdowns at aqueduct in the winter. once again, the trainers think it is okay to race in these winter conditions. why are the trainers worried about making a buck, when it is unsafe to race ? underestimating freeze and thaw conditions is a mistake. even our automobiles get hurt with potholes in the road. the jockies wear much more clothing, which restricts movement. the face masks direct their own breath upward to where they cant see as well. it will even fog up their goggles. jockeys hands are cold and do not have the same senses that are needed to react quickly. why put risk to these great athletes ? good luck, ramon.
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why is mike repole not on the board? he's the real deal. gambling supports racing, not the other way around. flay is a nice guy, but all he does is write the cheques. repole is head and shoulders the best qualified person in north america to sit on the board.
Im glad theyre installing Trakus and HD cameras
The composition of the board offers a somewhat well rounded model with one glaring omission - which I will get to in a minute. Mr. Violette for example brings years of experience as a horseman, Mr. Flay brings to the table (pun intended) his experience as an owner, his experience with others in his income class, and his years as successful restaurant owner. You each have your own "wheelhouses" and can add your background to the success of the new NYRA. The glaring omission? None of you are average CUSTOMERS. The board is completely devoid of a voice from the fan's point of view. No council made of longtime racing fans to add their suggestions. Not even one person to convey to you how things look from the customer's point of view. I'll make an analogy we can all understand- on television there are several shows about restaurants in financial trouble. Inevitably, the show eventually interviews patrons who tell how bad the food really is- too salty, flavorless, overcooked, whatever. And the host finally gets it through the rock-headed owner that his product is not what he thinks it is and that this is why his business is not flourishing. Often times the host uses a number of methods to get the owner to see why they are failing- listening to their customers, listening to their employees and here's the metaphor- eating their own food. You see none of you have the ability to "eat your own food ' here. You are not everyday patrons. How many of you actually sit in the grandstand? How many of you picnic near the paddock at Saratoga- with poor 25 year old TVs and no sound? How many of you actually go into the hundred degree bathrooms there with one stupid fan, no AC and 30 people in line? How many of you wait in-line at ATM's that seem to never work? Year after year after year we have the same issues yet no one listens. As customers, WE have the ideas of how to increase attendance and enhance the experience. WE sit in the picnic areas, the grandstands, the OTB parlors, watch from our homes and stand at the rail. And WE are the most important part of the game- for without customers, there is no need for anyone else. Yet we have no representation on the board. The business is shrinking because for years you have ignored us. Yet you don't get it- because you are not eating what you feed your customers. Never mind telling us you are going to have meetings (rarely) with patrons invited to make suggestions. It is obvious that those meetings will take place far too infrequently and long after you have made important decisions and spent any of the money that should go to fix the issues that need to be fixed first. I submit to the board and Mr. Cuomo that each of the tracks should have a committee composed of long time patrons. Perhaps 10 people per committee. Hear our suggestions- then make your decisions. Listen to your customers-we'll tell you what marketing efforts we think would work and how we can grow the game. I would like to submit my name to be on the committee for Saratoga. Where do I sign up?