Noting that the "reforms and initiatives that we have collectively implemented are beginning to generate real, tangible results," the New York Racing Association (NYRA) CEO and President Chris Kay delivered a positive and forward-looking report at Wednesday morning's board of directors meeting. The meeting was open to the public, and broadcast live on NYRA.com.
Kay's remarks capped a full meeting complete with the seating of a new board member, Marc Holliday; a series of board committee reports; and a financial overview offered by Chief Financial Officer Susanne Stover. Stover reported that the organization's financial performance continues on a positive trajectory, and that a review of Equibase data for the three months ending June 30 saw wagering on NYRA races bucking the national trend, growing by 5 percent while national wagering fell by 2 percent.
Further, the Equibase data cited by Stover showed that every dollar invested in purses at NYRA during the three months ending June 30 yielded $14.82 in handle, compared to $9.96 industry-wide. NYRA contributed 4 percent of total industry race days, offered 14 percent of purses and generated 21 percent of Thoroughbred handle across the United States, according to Stover.
Kay welcomed the organization's newest board member, Holliday, who is well-respected within the Thoroughbred industry and is a longtime owner and breeder who campaigns horses under the banner of Blue Devil Racing Stable. He serves as executive officer of SL Green Realty Corp.
Kay noted that it has been nearly two years since a confluence of events led New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to direct the formation of a temporary, publically controlled body -- the NYRA Reorganization Board -- tasked with transforming NYRA into a model of accountability, efficiency and sustainability.
Kay outlined an overview of the actions taken by the board of directors and the management team in partnership with the State of New York and the Gaming Commission since that time, all in a continuing, successful effort to safeguard the integrity of business and racing operations, while growing the sport to attract a new generation of horseplayers and fans.
In the past year alone, the results cited by Kay included:
- Securing and implementing a new management team, comprised of highly accomplished leaders well-respected for their knowledge and experience within their respective fields. Personnel changes within this time include the hiring of a new CEO and president, a new general counsel, a new chief compliance officer, a new senior vice president for racing operations, a new director of communications and the sport's first-ever chief experience officer.
- Streamlining operations and transforming the organization into a model of financial sustainability for the long-term. Through prudent budgeting, demanding greater efficiencies and securing more favorable revenue streams, the organization paid off a $25 million loan from Resorts World and is now debt-free. Further, the organization is currently on-track to achieve its first operating surplus since 2000 -- a period of 14 years.
Improving the Quality of Horse Racing
- Restructuring its racing schedule to include a focus on four, "must see" big event days: Belmont Stakes Day, Stars and Stripes Day, Whitney Day and Travers Day. With increased purses, larger cards and a higher level of equine competition, the results of this fresh approach have been encouraging.
- Embracing recommendations within the 2012 New York Task Force report and proactively taking steps to ensure that medications provided to our equine athletes are appropriately given, and that illegal substances are not. The organization hired one of the first Safety Stewards in the nation, Hugh Gallagher. Gallagher is a nationally-renowned leader in equine safety and is working with NYRA's Horse Watch Detail to prevent illegal use of race day medications.
- Lowering the New York Racing Association's catastrophic injury rate, which has plummeted to one of the lowest in the organization's history. Working in concert with the State of New York and the State Gaming Commission, racing operations at Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga are safer than any point in recent memory.
Enhancing the Guest Experience
- Belmont: Guests were able to enjoy a wide array of new improvements during this year's spring/summer meet. This included the installation of new HD televisions across the property, Trakus technology for horseplayers and new video display boards in the Paddock. Enhancements were made to the Belmont Café, and the Top of the Stretch Picnic Area was expanded. On Belmont Stakes Day, new, differentiated and upscale dining areas such as the Champagne Room and Trackside Tent debuted, receiving positive reviews.
- Saratoga: Guests arriving in July to the historic Saratoga Race Course were able to enjoy nearly $2 million in capital improvements designed to provide an enhanced experience. This included several technological enhancements, such as hundreds of new HD televisions, enhanced Wi-Fi capacity, a new, improved sound system, Trakus technology for horseplayers and three new HD video boards across the property. Additionally, families were able to utilize an expanded children's playground and visit the new "Horse Sense" exhibit, enabling children to get up close with the stars of the show and learn about the importance of outriders to the sport. More than 125 new picnic tables were also installed throughout the backyard.
- Aqueduct: Longshots, a new, state-of-the-art simulcasting center and sports bar in Aqueduct debuted in April, featuring more than 270 individual handicapping carrels and 55 self-service betting terminals located across four separate seating areas. This state of the art facility has continued to see strong interest from and attendance by horseplayers -- even after operations shifted for the Belmont and Saratoga meets. From April through August 1, 30,932 guests have visited Longshots and $14,044,845 in handle has been wagered.
Kay outlined the success of the 2014 spring/summer Belmont meet. Despite running two fewer days, total and on-track year-over-year handle and attendance increased at the 2014 Belmont Park spring/summer meet, which ran 54 days from May 1 through July 13. All-sources handle on NYRA races was $592 million, up 4 percent from $569.6 million in 2013. On-track handle on NYRA races was $84.6 million, up 8 percent from $78.5 million in 2013.
Additionally, Kay reviewed the success of the organization's two "must-see" events at Belmont Park. In addition to Belmont Stakes Day, which set records for handle and featured a revamped, enhanced race card featuring 10 graded stakes races with $8 million in purses, NYRA debuted a second such event over the July 4th weekend -- Stars & Stripes Day. With $3.25 million in purses and five stakes races, this festival featured an enhanced racing card, in addition to family-friendly activities and a food truck showcase. Belmont attendance for those three days rose 33 percent, and total handle rose 18 percent over last year.
Kay provided a status update on this year's Saratoga meet, which is off to a strong start. Through the first week of the meet, on-track attendance is up 10 percent over last year, on-track handle is up five percent over last year, and per-capita spending on food, beverages and other incidentals is up 19 percent over last year. Further, Kay recognized Stewart's Shops for its new, successful partnership which resulted in the sale of season passes more than quadrupling over the previous year.
Finally, Kay provided an update on the organization's preparations for re-privatization by 2015. This includes the development of a three-year financial plan and potential utilization of real estate assets. He noted that progress is continuing in this area, with further updates to be provided to the board in the coming months.
All materials discussed and reviewed during the board's meetings, replays of past meetings and a list of current board members are available atNYRA.com.