01/17/2018 3:20PM

NYRA in no rush to begin nighttime racing

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Though the New York Racing Association this spring could receive state approval to conduct nighttime racing at Belmont Park, it is unlikely that such a card would take place until 2019 at the earliest.

In his fiscal state budget unveiled Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a proposal that would permit NYRA to conduct nighttime racing at Belmont on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at its spring and fall meets. Racing could not be conducted past 10:30 p.m., and a staggered schedule of post times would have to be worked out between Belmont and Yonkers Raceway, a Standardbred track located 20 miles away in Westchester County that typically races at night.

Cuomo’s proposal is similar to provisions in a bill that was passed by the state Senate last year but didn’t get through the Assembly before the two bodies adjourned for the summer. Both legislative houses would have to pass the budget with nighttime racing in it. The budget deadline in New York is April 1.

Chris Kay, NYRA’s president and chief executive, has said that he believes nighttime racing could help attract a new generation of fans. However, nighttime racing is part of a larger redevelopment plan for the facility that has not yet been fully developed or unveiled. Kay said that unless it took an inordinate amount of time to get those plans passed, he likely would wait before offering nighttime racing.

“If it’s going to take many years to get there, then we may go in a different direction and then offer it sooner,” he said.

On Wednesday, Kay reiterated his desire to offer fans at Belmont Park the same kind of “21st century amenities” that exist at some of the newer arenas and stadiums in the metropolitan area. Kay said that creating open-space areas where medium-to-large groups could hang out and renovating the area around – and potentially above – the paddock would be part of the redevelopment plans.

“How much of our building we renovate and what kind of amenities we would provide is something we have yet to fully determine, but that’s the goal,” Kay said of modernizing Belmont.

Kay still has to present plans to the NYRA board later this year. The next board meeting is March 21, but Kay said the plans would not be presented then. The plans also need approval from either or both the Franchise Oversight Board and the New York State Gaming Commission.

Kay said he hopes that the renovations could go on simultaneously with the construction of a project the state recently announced that would include a new arena for the New York Islanders as well as 435,000 square feet of retail and dining space on the property of Belmont. It is unclear when ground will be broken for that project.

“I think that working together, we have this incredibly exciting opportunity to create a world-class sports and entertainment facility, and we’re going to do everything we can in our power to make it work for everybody, including NYRA, the Islanders, and, of course, the fans,” Kay said.

Nighttime racing would provide horsemen with some hardships, such as having to pay overtime to employees, but horsemen are believed to be in support of the proposal.

“I think horsemen in general are for anything that will bring people to the racetrack, bring in more business through handle,” said Joe Applebaum, the new president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “If NYRA feels night racing is one way to do that, we’re supportive of that. There are logistical concerns and demands on our staff and the horses themselves that need to be figured out, but we don’t see that as standing in the way of night racing.”

The governor’s budget also seeks to establish an advisory committee to review the “structure, operations, and funding of equine drug testing and research.”

Kay confirmed that this has to do with NYRA building a “super lab” on its grounds for drug testing. This topic was brought up often during public board meetings NYRA conducted before it was reprivatized last year.

“We’ll create a study group, look at it over the next several months, determine what’s needed and how it could be funded,” Kay said. “The first and foremost goal is to make sure we do something that would meet the integrity standards hpere in New York.”

Lastly, the governor’s budget also includes a provision for NYRA to increase its operating reserve fund to 90 days from its current legislative requirement of 45 days. This would enable NYRA to be better equipped to deal with unforeseen situations such as the power outages that plagued Belmont Park the last two weeks before being resolved.”