09/29/2014 5:38PM

NYRA expects to meet deadline for re-privatization plan

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NEW YORK – As the New York Racing Association approaches the two-year anniversary of a takeover by the state, the company appears to be moving closer to developing a long-term plan for the re-privatization of the organization, one that must be submitted to the governor by April.

At a NYRA Re-Organization Board meeting held Monday in Manhattan – at which officials trumpeted the success of the Saratoga meet and Belmont Stakes Day – chairman David Skorton said that NYRA president and chief executive Chris Kay and members of the board’s long-term planning committee will soon bring to the table ideas regarding the future of NYRA. The long-term planning committee is chaired by Michael Dubb and Bobby Flay.

Among the issues to be decided will be the viability of NYRA maintaining both Aqueduct and Belmont Park, two tracks that are eight miles apart.

“These are a bunch of tough issues about which not everybody will agree,” said Skorton, who will be leaving his position as NYRA chair in mid-2015 to preside over the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. “Over the next several weeks, Chris and his team will be preparing something to discuss at public meeting.”

NYRA has scheduled board meetings for Nov. 12 and Dec. 3 to discuss the company’s future.

No long-term specifics were discussed at Monday’s meeting, but Kay said “one overreaching priority is to optimize New York Thoroughbred racing for future growth and success … We are required to submit a proposed plan in April. We will meet or beat that schedule.”

Kay said NYRA’s plan will entail a three-year financial component detailing NYRA’s financial performance in 2014 as well as an approved budget for 2015 and a proposed budget for 2016.

At Monday’s meeting, NYRA reported that its earned income from racing operations through the first eight months of 2014 was $15.5 million, an increase of $9.9 million compared with the same period in 2013. A variety of factors go into that figure, including record-setting Belmont Stakes Day business, earned income from raising the fee NYRA charges for its simulcast signal, and an increase in revenue due to increased admission and seating prices at Saratoga.

NYRA’s overall bottom line looks less rosy when a deferred $25 million tax asset valuation is factored in. That figure is derived from tax credits given to NYRA during years when it lost money. With that figure factored in, NYRA’s overall income of $35.9 million is $15.3 million less than last year’s figure.

With Saratoga enjoying ontrack success in 2014 – attendance was up double digits, and ontrack handle was up 1.9 percent – there has been speculation that next year’s 40-day meet could be extended to eight weeks, with racing five days a week. That topic was not brought up at Monday’s meeting.

Kay did say that he would like to close the Aqueduct backstretch for as long as four months in 2015, coinciding with the end of the Aqueduct spring meet at the end of April. This year, NYRA closed the Aqueduct backstretch for the seven weeks of the Saratoga meet.

Toward that end, NYRA is building one new barn at Belmont and hopes to put in for permits to build more, though Kay admitted that would be a slow process.

“We’d like to be able to close it in April – there are savings we could realize if we could close it earlier – and having more stalls at Belmont would permit us to do that, and that’s the goal,” Kay said.

Kay hinted at possible price increases for next year’s Belmont Stakes. He said NYRA would compare prices for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Breeders’ Cup “and see what is the right pricing for next year.”

Kay also said he would like NYRA to start selling seats and dining options to the public for next year’s Belmont Stakes as early as December.

Kay also said that NYRA has had discussions with officials from the Long Island Railroad to avoid the chaos that ensued following this year’s Belmont Stakes, where many fans were left waiting for hours for trains following the races.

Kay said the LIRR has already begun developing a plan to better handle the situation next year, including raising and extending the platform and closing a nearby station to house additional dedicated trains for Belmont Park.