05/13/2014 2:28PM

NYRA shows slight gain in first-quarter handle


The New York Racing Association reported a slight increase in total handle on its races at Aqueduct for the first quarter of the year compared with 2013.

Total handle on races at Aqueduct from January through March was $412.3 million, a 1.3 percent increase from $406.9 million generated over the same period in 2013. However, despite seven weather-related cancellations in 2014, Aqueduct ran 54 cards over the first three months of the year, three more than in 2013, when five days were canceled due to weather and the race week was reduced to four days for a six-week period due to issues related to horse safety.

Ontrack handle for the first quarter was $123.3 million, down 1 percent from last year’s $124.6 million. Simulcast handle on NYRA races was $289 million, a 2.4 percent increase from $283.2 million last year.

Attendance at Aqueduct was reported as 177,689, a 6 percent decrease from last year. Field size was up slightly from 7.1 to 7.2. Field size in 2013 was down significantly due to new medication rules that NYRA had put in place.

NYRA reported that it earned $22.5 million from racing operations in the first quarter, a decrease of 1 percent from last year. It said that operating expenses were $32.7 million, an increase of 5 percent from 2013 due in part to labor costs associated with taking over the cleaning and maintenance at Aqueduct, something which had been done by Genting, which runs the casino next door.

In discussing the various upgrades that have been made to Aqueduct – including painting, cleaning, and the opening of Longshots, a simulcast/sports-bar area – Susanne Stover, NYRA’s chief financial officer, said, “Aqueduct has not looked better in many, many years.”

The numbers were reported by NYRA to the Franchise Oversight Board at a meeting Tuesday.

Business was below what NYRA had budgeted, something management blamed on the poor winter weather.

“Certainly, we were disappointed that we had so many days wiped out due to terrible weather,” NYRA president Christopher Kay said after the 90-minute meeting. “It was a historically bad winter for all of us in the Northeast. We’re looking forward to a good spring.”

The tone at Tuesday’s meeting was less combative than at several prior meetings. One area where the Oversight Board chastised NYRA was over its response to the findings of a statutorily required Performance Standards Evaluation Review covering the period of 2008-12.

The draft of that review – not made available at the meeting – said NYRA failed to meet two of the 11 enumerated standards, only partially satisfied three standards, and the evaluation of one standard was premature.

James Towne, an FOB board member, called NYRA’s response to that report “argumentative and petulant in several places and quite honestly inappropriate and counterproductive.”

“We’re here trying to make it possible to make NYRA succeed; we’re here for a reason,” Towne said. “We’re not your adversaries.”

Asked after the meeting if he agreed with Towne’s assessment of NYRA’s tone, Kay said, “No. I think everybody has their own opinion about the assertions made by both sides.”

NYRA was also chastised for putting up a fight for a Freedom of Information Law request made by journalists seeking details of Kay’s compensation package. It has been reported that Kay, who gets a $300,000 base salary, has a generous automobile allowance and that his bonus can be greater than the $250,000 that NYRA chairman David Skorton has previously stated.

Kay declined to discuss his contract after the meeting.

Kay was lauded by board members after he went through a presentation of what NYRA has planned for Belmont Stakes Day, a card that features 10 stakes and 13 races totaling $8 million in purses. Kay talked about the entertainment options – LL Cool J, Frank Sinatra Jr., and the U.S. Military Academy band – that will be available on Belmont Day. He also revealed that NYRA plans to host a horseshoe-throwing contest that will offer two fans the chance to win $1 million.

Kay said he has heard just one negative comment about increases in admission and parking at Belmont Park. He went on to say that NYRA will soon be publishing results of a survey that indicated that most people thought NYRA was charging more than $5 to get into Belmont.

Kay also said ticket sales for the Belmont Stakes were selling one-third faster than last year at this time.

Steve Newman, a former member of the New York City OTB board, said thus far he’s been impressed by Kay, an executive without a racing background who has been on the job for 10 months.

“I think the appointment of somebody from outside the industry who brings other values and ideas is wonderful,” Newman said. “I think you hear some of the different creativity during the course of the meetings. I think Christopher Kay is a really good, smart guy.”