10/19/2012 3:56PM

NYRA board member to focus on Saratoga


John Hendrickson, who was appointed on Thursday by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be a special advisor to the New York Racing Association’s board of directors, will not have a voting role on the 17-member board, Hendrickson said on Friday. But he has been asked to “protect and enhance” NYRA’s Saratoga racetrack and the town where it is located, Saratoga Springs.

Hendrickson, the racing and breeding manager for his wife’s Marylou Whitney Stable, was one of 13 people appointed to the board on Thursday by Gov. Cuomo and state legislative leaders. Though Hendrickson will not have a vote, he said he will attend every meeting of the new board, which will replace NYRA’s previous 25-member board.

“The governor gets Saratoga,” Hendrickson said, speaking from the Whitney farm in Kentucky. “I’ve been asked to make sure that all of Saratoga’s interests are represented. I really think [Cuomo] wanted to send a message that Saratoga will be protected and enhanced no matter what happens to New York racing.”

The appointment of a special advisor for Saratoga underscores the importance of the track to the upstate economy and the national U.S. racing circuit. While the futures of NYRA’s two downstate tracks, Belmont and Aqueduct, remain uncertain, Saratoga appears to have been given special consideration to shield it from the hands of developers and casino interests who are keenly eyeing the governor’s plans for the downstate properties.

Hendrickson was a member of NYRA’s former board, as were four other Thursday appointees. NYRA’s five appointments, which were confirmed late Friday, were all former members of the board. As a result, nine of the 17 voting members, a majority, will have served on the new board’s predecessor.

It is unclear yet when the new board will hold its first meeting.

Cuomo selected David Skorton, the president of Cornell University, to serve as the board’s chairman. A spokesperson for Skorton, Simeon Moss, said on Friday that Skorton was travelling and that he was not ready yet to answer questions about the appointment.

“At this point I think it’s premature to talk in any detail about what the board will be doing,” Moss said. A series of questions e-mailed to Moss over Skorton’s horseracing ties, if any, were not answered by late Friday afternoon.

Hendrickson said that he had heard that Skorton and his wife insisted on moving into Cornell’s student dorms when he was first tabbed as the college’s president. The couple remained in the dorm for one year “so that they could get a feel for what the college was like on the inside,” Hendrickson said.

“If he takes that kind of an approach to serving on NYRA’s board, I think New York racing will be in great shape,” Hendrickson said.

The five NYRA appointees are: Steven Duncker, the board’s former chairman; Stuart Janney III, the owner-breeder; Stuart Subotnick, a horse owner who is a media executive; Charles Wait, a bank executive from Saratoga Springs; and Barry Ostrager, president of New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. and the owner of Questroyal Stud in New York.