05/28/2014 2:48PM

NYRA hoping Belmont Day kickstarts spring rebound

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It was a rough winter for the New York Racing Association in terms of business and perception, but upper management is hoping for a turnaround this spring, buoyed by the possibility of having one of its biggest days ever in the June 7 Belmont Stakes.

At a meeting of its Reorganization Board of Directors in Manhattan on Wednesday, NYRA reported it had a loss of $10.2 million from racing operations through the first quarter of 2014, an increase of $1.7 million, or 19 percent, compared to last year and $1.8 million, or 21 percent higher than expected. NYRA officials mostly blamed the weather for its woes, noting that it endured seven weather-related cancellations during Aqueduct’s inner-track meet.

However, handle for that period of time was $412.3 million, an increase of $5.5 million, or 1 percent, compared to the first quarter of 2013. Aqueduct conducted three more racing days through the first quarter of 2014 than the same period last year.

When revenue from video-lottery terminals at Resorts World is factored in, the picture for NYRA looks better as its net loss for the quarter was only $1.2 million.

NYRA blamed a deal between Churchill Downs Inc. and Delaware North that enables CDI to avoid paying the state – and in turn NYRA, horsemen, and breeders – an out-of-state source market fee that was enacted legislatively beginning Jan. 1, 2013. NYRA estimates that deal has cost it, the horsemen, and breeders a total of $1.5 million.

NYRA is seeking some help from the New York Gaming Commission to revisit the rules that permit CDI to do this, but there is no timetable for a resolution to the issue.

“We’re losing money,” said Rick Violette, a trainer and a board member. “The clock’s ticking.”

NYRA also had perception problems with Aqueduct being described by one of its board members, Len Riggio, in March as “dirty and dangerous,” and there was an unfortunate incident when a woman was assaulted in a restroom on Super Bowl Sunday.

Susanne Stover, NYRA’s chief financial officer, provided a slide show of improvements made at Aqueduct that included a new simulcast area, called Longshots. Future improvements are planned for the Manhattan Terrace and Champs Sports Bar.

It is widely assumed that the Reorganization Board will recommend closing Aqueduct and finding an alternate use of the property when it presents a report to Gov. Cuomo next year. After the meeting, NYRA president and CEO Chris Kay said nothing has been proposed for an alternative use of Aqueduct.

“People say you should cut a deal,” Kay said. “Well, what are the terms? You need to find out what the terms are and find out if it’s a good deal or not. In the meantime, to the extent that some people thought Aqueduct had some issues, well we were trying to show you Aqueduct is a much cleaner place. Until I know for sure that we have an alternative, I want to make sure that this place is in good shape.

Wednesday’s meeting focused a lot on the Belmont Stakes, where California Chrome will bid to become the sport’s 12th Triple Crown winner on a card that will include 13 races, including 10 stakes and $8 million in purses.

All traditional and upscale seating is sold out, though Kay said there will be a pavilion on the clubhouse side that will have a 230-person capacity with seating priced at $1,000 per ticket.

Kay also said that NYRA will be adding 1,000 bleacher seats in upper stretch – adjacent to the picnic area – which will cost $250 per seat.

Kay added that he and his staff are monitoring ticket sales and said that general admission may not be available for purchase the day of the race. Kay had not yet defined what number he and his staff feel is the cut-off point for sales.

The record crowd for a Belmont Stakes is 120,139. Kay said he is not looking to cram as many people into Belmont as possible.

“I’m more committed to people having a great time than breaking a record for attendance, particularly since some of the attendance records from the past, I’m not sure how reliable they are,” Kay said.

Kay said NYRA is hiring 1,000 additional personnel to join the current 1,000-person workforce to deal with the crowd.

In other news:

◗ Chairman David Skorton, who will become head of the Smithsonian Institute in June 2015, said he is committed to staying in his role until at least the end of 2014. As the president of Cornell University, Skorton said he will be busy with the college’s sesquicentennial starting in July, but added: “I’m committed to [NYRA]. Committed especially to getting the organization to the point where we can discuss re-privatization. The main thing I want people to know is I’m not walking away.”

◗ Jane Rosenthal, an appointee to the board by Gov. Cuomo, resigned from the board for various undisclosed reasons. Skorton said an announcement on her replacement could come “within a week.”

Ian GW More than 1 year ago
Be the next best day to maybe play there. Few plays Friday but NY Stakes day is a yawner and always fill of chalk.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Not even 7000 in the stands on last monday.A hint of how people feel about NY racing.On Belmont day they are not there to see NY racing they are there to maybe see history.Let's see the per head betting of the on track crowd.Hope nyra HAS TO WAIT ANOTHER 36 YEARS TO PULL THIS STUNT ON THE FANS AGAIN.
Anne Baxter More than 1 year ago
Walter is exactly right. You need look no further than Obamacare!
Walter More than 1 year ago
I don't agree w the price gouging on Belmont Day. But my fellow Americans, it's Capitalism and this type of thing happens to us everyday. NYRA doesn't care a bit abt the every day fan, they are far more concerned w the folks who will pay the inflated prices for one day. It's a money grab & will prove to be successful when reporting their bottom line.
Rich Sesny More than 1 year ago
It has only been in the last 4-5 years that Belmont has started charging market price for their tickets. If you want to get real sticker shock - try to get a seat at the Derby or the Preakness. I can remember when these seats were $5 - and no, not in 1965. Even as late Smarty Jones's Belmont - the seats were not expensive at all. After Big Brown; however, the folks at NYRA finally woke up. These guys run a deficit every meet except Saratoga - the money has to come from somewhere. The only folks who complain are the hardcore fans used to getting free parking and $5 admission to the Clubhouse. Once a year, you need to allow NYRA to make some money. It keeps the lights on.
Patrick Vassell More than 1 year ago
No walk in Admission?!! Thats what I do everyday I go to the track, are you friggin kidding me??!! HE IS REALLY DUMB FOR REAL, I WALK IN LAST YEAR BELMONT @$20 CLUBHOUSE. Wonder how much he going charge now that one price takes you everywhere on a normal day, damn #CROOKS KAY
Anne Baxter More than 1 year ago
This is much more about a dying industry than NYRA mismanagement. Until the track owners and major horse owners from across the country get together and create ONE governing body, the destruction of racing will continue. As presently constituted, each state has too much power over their tracks.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Same as charging $4 for gas in the summer .Screw the people who keep you in business the other 364 days a year. All tracks raise prices on days when maybe some new fans might show up.
1971 Whippet More than 1 year ago
I was headed to Belmont next Saturday, primarily because I do that every year. The prices I've seen for some seating options are obscene, aren't they? In the next few years, when the TC isn't on the line, they should pay people to show up.
Sean O More than 1 year ago
NYRA is going to make so much money on Belmont Day. Absolutely brilliant idea to move the Met Mile/Phipps/etc. to the day and make it a Breeders Cup in June. I've been going to Belmont every year since 1999 and this is the most excited I've ever been, save for Smarty. Time for horse racing to understand that the attention given to sports in this country is based on events and spectacles. And this will be both. NYRA actually did something smart!
Richard More than 1 year ago
So wrong ! Look at attendance and handle on Memorial Day without the Met Mile - pathetic ! The Belmont does not need a supporting cast to ensure attendance, attention and increase in daily handle.
Rich Sesny More than 1 year ago
I have been at the last several Met Miles - there were barely 10k on track. On their best days (non Belmont Stakesday) - there 12,000 fans at Belmont on a typical Saturay. It is summer time in NY - there are just too many other things to do. Overall, Belmont does better with this "Super Saturday" format. This attracts the casual fan - I think this is a brilliant idea considering that there may never be another Breeders Cup at Belmont again.
Dick Brasher More than 1 year ago
Wow,one of about 3 articles you can actually read without paying drf for more!Greedy Mofos!
Jerrell Armes More than 1 year ago
from now on I think the name that fits drf. is the red flag site