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NYRA To Unveil Re-privatization Plan In April

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

Next month, after years under state control, the New York Racing Association is expected to submit a reprivatization plan.

At this month’s NYRA board meeting, vice chair Michael Del Guidice said the organization would unveil its reprivatization plan during the next board meeting, scheduled for the week of April 11th.

“We’ve been talking already to some of the legislators in the legislature from the related communities meaning Saratoga and Aqueduct and Belmont, and getting their views. So I think we’ll have a piece of legislation that will be pretty good by the time we’re ready to go,” said Del Guidice.

Del Guidice said the plan would be introduced to lawmakers after the state budget deadline of March 31st.

After years of financial problems and apparent declining popularity of thoroughbred horse racing among New Yorkers, the non-profit organization was placed under state control in 2012. In the last few years, under the management of a new board, the organization that oversees racing at Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga Race Course, NYRA has focused on returning profits, enhancing the quality of racing, and improving the fan experience.

NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay says that the reorganization board has achieved its goals.

“We’ve achieved a great deal over the last three years working together. And I know that the progress and the success that we’ve achieved to date will be the basis of the long-term growth and success of the New York Racing Association in the future,” said Kay.

In his report to the board, Kay said the turnaround is thanks to both institutional reforms and operational changes. Saratoga race fans will have noticed changes and improvements to the grounds including new televisions in the backyard, a picnic table reservation system, and new amenities including a sports bar. Racetrack season passes proved popular. And American Pharoah’s Triple Crown win at Belmont — and later stunning loss at Saratoga — helped drive attendance and boost interest in New York racing, making 2015 the second straight year of profits for the organization.

Kay predicted that momentum would continue into 2016. Kay said reserved-seat sales for the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, which begins in June, were more than half sold-out by early March.

“In the first week alone when these tickets went on sale, we saw revenue from reserved seat sales increase by 95 percent. To date, more than 55 percent of our reserved-seat inventory is already sold out.”

The March meeting was also the first for new member Jeffery Cannizzo. The Executive Director of New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. joins NYRA board member Georgie Nugent Lussier as a second voice from Saratoga Springs.

Cannizzo addressed the board by providing an update on the New York breeding industry, which after years of decline, has seen steady improvement in the last five years. Statebreds now have the fourth-largest footprint in the country.

“We’re behind Kentucky, Florida, and California by a very small margin. And I project that we’ll actually exceed California in the next several years. At the same time, there were states like Pennsylvania and Louisiana that we’ve surpassed. So this is a very good story for New York,” said Cannizzo.

This month, the NYRA board also voted to support a bill co-authored by Capital Region Congressman Paul Tonko that would establish an independent Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Authority to create a universal regulation system for medication in horse racing.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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