03/10/2016 2:46PM

NYRA reports good news on handle, financial fronts


NEW YORK – Total all-sources handle on races run at New York Racing Association tracks in 2015 was $2,243,039,376, a 3 percent increase from 2014, when $2,177,979,073 was bet, NYRA announced Thursday.

There were 237 cards of racing conducted at NYRA tracks in 2015, eight fewer than in 2014, mostly due to a harsh winter that saw 16 full-card cancellations in the first three months of 2015.

Simulcast handle on NYRA’s races rose 4 percent, which helped NYRA to offset a drop in ontrack handle. Ontrack handle in 2015 was $366,575,759, a 2.1 percent decline from $374,387,425 in 2014.

Handle numbers were fueled by American Pharoah’s Triple Crown run at the Belmont Stakes as well as glorious weather at Saratoga, where all-sources handle was up 14 percent.

The winter of 2015-16 is off to solid start as well, as all-sources daily average handle is up 19 percent, according to NYRA president and chief executive Chris Kay. This despite a 7.3 percent decline in business on the March 5 Gotham Stakes card compared with Gotham Day in 2015.

Despite going from a five-day race week to a four-day race week from January through March, there have been 309 races run at Aqueduct from Jan. 1 through March 6, compared with 272 through the same period a year ago. Aqueduct has had to cancel only six cards of racing to this point in 2016, compared with 15 from Jan. 1 through March 6 in 2015.

While Kay said NYRA is committed to conducting winter racing, there is a chance that NYRA could seek a reduction in the schedule. NYRA is statutorily required to schedule 95 days of racing from Dec. 1 through April 30 in order to maintain a preferable tax rate. This year, it received permission from the horsemen, breeders – and, ultimately, the New York State Gaming Commission – to reduce that schedule even further. There were 88 scheduled cards of racing at Aqueduct from Dec. 1 through April 24.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that winter racing is successful,” Kay said Thursday following a NYRA Reorganization Board meeting in Manhattan. “The question is how many days are successful?”

Toward that end, Kay is likely to ask the legislature to give NYRA the ability to make its own racing schedule, rather than having government dictate how many days it should run.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could manage our dates as opposed to having a legislature determine those dates?” Kay said. “Our job is to understand foal count; that isn’t what a legislature decides.”

The ability to allow it to set its own racing schedule is just one of several “proposed legislative and regulatory changes” NYRA expects to include in a reprivatization plan it is to submit to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in April. NYRA will hold a board meeting the week of April 11 to discuss further details of that plan.

New York State took over NYRA in the fall of 2012, with Cuomo and legislators appointing a reorganization board that was to be in existence for three years and charged with developing a plan for reprivatization. In 2015, Cuomo extended this board for another year.

Kay said Thursday that NYRA likely will submit its plan by April 15 so that Cuomo and the state legislature can decide what form reprivatization will take by October.

◗ NYRA reported a $3.5 million profit in 2015, a $1.8 million increase from 2014. It was the second straight year that NYRA has shown an operating profit, exclusive of revenue generated by the video-lottery-terminal casino at Aqueduct. Kay said NYRA is forecasting an operating profit for 2016 as well.

◗ NYRA announced that its catastrophic rate of injury for 2015 was 1.09 per 1,000 starters, down from 1.83 in 2014.

“We do recognize the need for further improvements to be made, particularly at Aqueduct,” said Marc Holliday, chairman of the board’s Equine Safety Committee. “[CRI] rates at Belmont and Saratoga are even better than 1.09. We have a little blip every year at the Aqueduct winter meet.”

◗ Jeff Cannizzo, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders and a recent non-voting appointee to the NYRA board, gave a presentation about the progress of the New York-bred program. Cannizzo said the New York-bred foal crop has increased 33 percent from 2011 to 2015 and there were 1,629 New York-bred foals in 2015.

Further, Cannizzo said there were 680 New York-bred races run at NYRA tracks in 2015, and that 45 percent of the starts made at NYRA tracks in 2015 were by New York-breds.