By R.J. DeLuke
Matt Jones, chairman of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, mentioned at the Chamber’s breakfast meeting in July at Longfellows Hotel, Restaurant and Conference Center, that pushing the plan to privatize the New York Racing Association (NYRA) “was not fully successful, but that effort will continue.”
It was one of few mentions of the situation regarding NYRA, which controls the three major thoroughbred horse racing tracks in the state–Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct.
The board was to revert to private, nonprofit status in 2015 and again this year. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not liked the proposed bills and has proposed capping the amount of money that would go to track operations.
That spawned the creation of Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing which is lobbying, with the support of the Chamber, to push re-privatization while ensuring steady funding.
A new agreement extended state control until October 2017.
Jones remarks were made prior to the keynote address by Chris Kay, CEO of NYRA, who spoke mainly about improvements made for the 2016 season, which is in progress, having begun on July 22.
He did, however, comment on the current NYRA board of directors, which he called “a world class board” with “dedication to doing the right thing. Dedication to horse racing. They’re working to get the right result … They are fine people and they’re doing the right thing.”
He said as a result of institutional reforms and operational changes implemented by the board and management team, NYRA registered its first operating surplus in 13 years in 2014. Last year was concluded with the second consecutive operating budget surplus–$3.5 million–reflecting the first back-to-back surpluses in 15 years.
He said NYRA is on track for a profit in 2016, despite the failure of some OTBs to make their monthly payments.
“These are exciting times for NYRA and everyone associated with Saratoga Race Course,” said Kay. “We are committed to continued improvements.”
Among the improvements is Saratoga LIVE, a new racing program produced by NYRA TV, which is broadcast to an audience of more than 65 million viewers on Fox Sports 2 and MSG+ each day beginning at 4 p.m. and on Altitude Sports beginning at 3 p.m. MT. The program features a combination of racing coverage, analysis and feature items.
Capital improvements and upgrades include three new high-definition video boards located near the paddock, Fourstardave Sports Bar and the main gate off Union Avenue.
The historic elements of the Saratoga Walk of Fame are enhanced with a pair of new interactive digital display tables, which enable users to watch video replays from each running of the Travers Stakes and Whitney Handicap dating back to 1973.
Opening day saw the official unveiling of The Easy Goer, the hospitality area that sits above the Fourstardave Sports Bar, which welcomes guests for a sit-down dining experience and features a new copper roof that replaces the former awning.
A new Travers Bar, featuring Moet & Chandon champagne, greets guests on the Clubhouse porch near the maÃ®tre d stand.
During the off-season, the NYRA planted more than 850 new trees to bring the total number on the property to nearly 2,800, and added 100 picnic tables in the backyard to bring the total number available to guests on a first-come, first-served basis to 950.
A new escalator which leads from the Clubhouse to the backyard will also greet guests, while a newly designed horse path leading from the paddock to the main track replaces the former dirt surface with permanent pavers and eliminates dust along the pathway.
“We have devoted $23 million already to Saratoga. But we have more work to do,” said Kay. “We want you to feel like a guest in our home. Saratoga is a very special place.”
Strides were also made for equine safety, cutting the catastrophic injury rate in half, to 1.09 percent, he said. And backstretch improvements have been made and will continue in order to make conditions better for workers.