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NYRA Expects Profit After Banner Racing Season

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The New York Racing Association (NYRA) hopes to continue to operate the Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct tracks.

After a busy racing season in Saratoga Springs, the New York Racing Association predicts profit for the second year in a row.

NYRA CEO Chris Kay presented good news to the organization’s board of directors on Wednesday afternoon, the first meeting after the close of the Saratoga meet on Labor Day.

After a  racing season consumed by American Pharoah fever, Kay reported attendance and wagering were up.

“As NYRA as placed a premium on improving the quality of our racing product, we believe the fans and our horsemen both responded in tremendous fashion at Saratoga this season. While most tracks in North America are reducing racing days in struggle to retain the status quo, the final numbers at Saratoga show a 14.1 percent increase in total handle on the NYRA product, excluding exports.”

In addition to wagering, food and drink sales are also up.

Kay said fans responded well to the new picnic table reservation system introduced in 2015. More than 2,200 picnic tables were reserved at the race track’s new sports bar, and more than 2,800 were reserved in the backyard.

“The reserved picnic table program was also popular with people who lived outside the Saratoga area that made a point to come to the Spa and spend several days. Not only were they able to reserve their hotel rooms in advance, but now they were able to reserve a picnic table as well,” said Kay.

New data collected by NYRA revealed that only 40 percent of attendees came from the surrounding Capital Region. Senior Vice President Lynn LaRocca said a large portion of the 60 percent who traveled to New York took their time in Saratoga.

“38 percent of them spend nine days and eight nights in Saratoga. They travel far and they stay long when they come to visit us. This data is going to help us as we establish and improve our partnerships with local businesses.”

LaRocca said fan feedback would also help the organization improve perks for season pass holders.

While NYRA attributed much of the success of this year’s meet to fine weather and investments paying off at the track, Kay could not go without mentioning the excitement brought on by American Pharoah’s Triple Crown win and second in the Travers Stakes.

Kay said Pharoah’s arrival in the Capital Region “mirrored that of a presidential visit.”

“Later that week was a moment that I or anyone who was there will never forget; on a crisp, clear Friday moring at the Spa, more than 15,000 fans arrived to cheer on American Pharoah as he worked out for the Travers.”

Kay called trainer Bob Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat’s decision to bring the champion throughbred to the Spa a great display of sportsmanship. In the end, Pharoah was defeated by Keen Ice in the Mid-Summer Derby.

At the close of his remarks, standing in for Chief Financial Officer Susanne Stover, Kay said NYRA was on track to turn a profit for the second straight year. Last year, NYRA made its first profit in more than a decade counting VLT funds.

“NYRA’s total operating income, including VLT funds year-to-date, was $3.6 million favorable to budget, and $4 million higher compared to last year. That remains on track to meet our 2015 budget, and to achieve an operating profit for the second straight year.”

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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