01/25/2013 7:37PM

NYRA board looking for shorter winter race week, new top executive

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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.

Billy More than 1 year ago
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.
j More than 1 year ago
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
russell More than 1 year ago
J- I think you answered your own question about Aqueduct. It is a sewer and who but a hardcore fan want to attend the live races during the dead of NY winter? yes the racing at aqueduct is better than some places but thats not saying much.
Larry Kaufman More than 1 year ago
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
Chris Lowe More than 1 year ago
I watch horses,not Chiclets!
Joey Santiago More than 1 year ago
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
Ben van den Brink More than 1 year ago
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.
jttf More than 1 year ago
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.
russell More than 1 year ago
Nice to see the DRF censoring free speech. This is the 2nd time my comments were deleted when I stated some of the status quo on NYRA's board are part of the problem and past failures. Mack, Janney, Ostrager, and Violette have their own self interests at heart and not the bettors. i applaud Flay for speaking up and Aqueduct should close for January and February. And Hayward and his cronies should get no more compensation. Put Repole on the Board. He was a race fan well before he struck it rich and is a local guy.
Sal Carcia More than 1 year ago
Bobby Flay has been wildly successful at building successful customer-oriented organizations. And these guys have the nerve to shut him down. Good luck to the NYRA.
W.G. More than 1 year ago
Sal: Flay has it right, but he does forget that some trainers can't afford to go to say Laurel for the winter. It's not like the old days when trainers did that. My compromise would be this for the winter: December 26-Janaury 1 (or 2, 3 or 4 depending on where New Year's Day falls): Racing every day with 10 races and a Noon first post. Rest of January: Fridays and Saturdays only (nine races Friday, 10 or 11 Saturday plus racing on Martin Luther King Day and Sunday between NFL Conference Championships and Super Bowl with nine on those cards). First post Noon Saturdays, 12:30 PM otherwise. February: Friday-Saturday-Sunday plus Presidents Day. 12 races Saturday (11:30 AM first Post), eight on other days (1:00 PM first post), except Presidents Day has nine races and a 1:00 PM first post. That would take care of January and February.
Sal Carcia More than 1 year ago
This sounds like a good solution. My point is that it appeared that these guys tried to disparage Flay from representing the customers' point of view. To me it symbolizes a major issue that the game has had for years. That is that it does not care much about its customers. I am sorry to be so cynical, but it has been this way for years. If I was the head of the Board, I 'd only have to read this comment section to learn what the customers feel are important to them.
Kurt K More than 1 year ago
I would be interested to know just how many board members will read this. Or how many are actually concerned what the patrons think should be done. Hey DRF, how about sending a copy of these posts to the NYRA Board and Mr. Cuomo. Better yet how about having more involvement in your own survival. Write an article or two suggesting what we have discussed here- getting the horse players involved in the input process, if not the decision making.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Problem with that argument is that he's a horse owner, not a marketing expert. He's a restaurant owner, not a racing expert. Shutting down the winter in New York is not an answer, it only gives the mid-Atlantic owners a reason to not come back North when Aqueduct resumes. Flay can be a respected owner, but he's not been around the game long enough to offer half-baked ideas that hurt the sport in the long term.
Nathan More than 1 year ago
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.
Pom De Terre More than 1 year ago
repole cannot keep either his emotions or his micromanagement style out of such a committee-this is a guy who boycott's the breeder's cup under the guise that there is no future running scheduled at belmont. he's a person who drives his trainer crazy in his insistence that he knows better. he's also a man who says that horses cannot run if they fly west... in other words he is irrational. flay has had much more experience in the sport and is far more of a team player. i'll take flay any day over repole, and- obviously- so does new york state.
avlamal More than 1 year ago
repole is a phenom as an qwner incredible success-everything he touches turns to gold flay literally for the money he has spent is a loser big time in the red repole can honestly say he is up millions in the sport really rare
Nick Gunritz More than 1 year ago
Im glad theyre installing Trakus and HD cameras
Kurt K More than 1 year ago
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?
Sal Carcia More than 1 year ago
Kurt, no greater truth has ever been written by anyone in these comments sections. The management is in total denial as to what their customers want or need. Finally, when they bring in a customer, they bring in these rebate player types who are even further away from understanding or caring about what the mainstream customers want or need. The interchange between Bobby Flay and Violette and Ostrager pretty much summed up what is wrong with the game. The needs of the customer gets beat down in the end by the trainers and owners, even to the overall detriment of the game.
Anil More than 1 year ago
Well said Kurt...... As an owner and customer I fully agree with everything you have said. This industry needs to build its fanbase and do it quickly. Watching TVG coverage of Japan racing one becomes awed at the number of patrons in attendance. It is obvious that they are doing something right. A big difference is the information about each horse in training in Japan is shared with the public. American horse racing is missing transparency .
russell More than 1 year ago
Well done Kirk. I too would love to volunteer. I became a race fan at an early age because of my father. I've been going to NYRA tracks for 35 years as a patron. I think I have a firm understanding of what the racing fans want from NYRA. The number #1 reason why ALL tracks are losing fans/bettors is they fell racing has very little integrity. Until trust is re-established bettors won't come back.
Pom De Terre More than 1 year ago
Couldn't agree more kurt. the lack of transparency under which nyra operates must change. this runs from their payout system including the larger takeouts on exotics down to parking at the track. i am tired of being nickled and dimed, having to watch my payouts, standing in long betting lines, and sweltering in a dirty restroom. here's a couple quick solution to building the fan base rapidly: 1) stop charging admission to the grandstand grounds- like oaklawn, gulfstream, tampa, monmouth, finger lakes, penn, mountaineer and almost every other track in the country. they stress what a family place saratoga is, yet a family of 5 has shelled out $25 between parking and admission before they even get near a betting window or concession stand. 2) clean up the backsides at all 3 tracks, especially in nyc. rats abound, paint- if still there- is peeling, and it is filthy. 3) staff your betting windows, particularly on big stakes days, such as travers. i'll go one step further with that thought... offer signed "beginner windows" where the saratoga tourist/novice can take their time without the rest of the more experienced bettors getting shut out. 4) fix the tv's, add more picnic tables, bathrooms and atm's- stop making the race track experience unpleasant and a chore. 5) get your payouts right (as an example, 4 months ago i played a triple twice from my account to avoid the taxes of hitting it once. i am still trying to get an explanation as to why the payouts differed by twenty cents, but have given up waiting for the answer.) 7) stop penalizing a trainer who wants to make a late scratch due to adverse weather/ a change of track conditions. safety must come 1st, and last winter these guys had 2 black eyes due to the chronic breakdowns that occured. i would be all for cutting back winter race days if it meant better safety to jocks, gate crew and, most importantly, the animals. however, that does not address the issue of neglect to the fans, horsemen and the grounds, and until this committee starts listening to these concerns, nothing will improve the experience. having an owner such as flay on this panel is a step in the right direction, but, as kurt stated so well, the patrons should also have a voice.