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Ahead Of Opening Day, NYRA CEO Touts New Projects At Saratoga Race Course

Former NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay speaks at a podium (file photo)
Lucas Willard

At a breakfast hosted by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, NYRA CEO Chris Kay spent most of his time at the podium outlining a slew of completed projects and new initiatives for guests and workers at the famed flat track.

“We believe these improvements are an important part of our pledge to provide the enhanced experience on and off the track: efforts that will cultivate and grow a new generation of fans and horseplayers for years to come, while maintaining the historic character of Saratoga Race Course,” said Kay.

NYRA, under state control for the past few years, has been focusing its efforts on capital projects to bring in new customers.

Kay announced a new wagering pavilion, where on Saturdays, guests can get pro advice on how to place their bets. More hi-def TVs have been added, along with a new video board. Online wagering on New York races will expanded outside the state. A second floor simulcast area has been added in the upper carousel area and a new broadcast service will bring live racing to viewers at home every day.  Kay explained the new live broadcasts began at Belmont earlier this year.

“So now we’re going to go from the show at Belmont to Saratoga Live. It will be an expanded version. So from 4:30 to 6 p.m. every day, our races will be broadcast live on a variety of channels,” said Kay.

Addressing concerns from last year’s new reserved seating system, Kay said the call-ahead picnic area will have fewer tables to allow more room for groups.

Track-goers have also expressed concerns over the popular giveaway days. With two giveaway days set for Mondays this summer, Kay said NYRA is trying to make sure there’s an adequate supply of gifts for fans.

“Part of the problem we had is when some people abuse it and take home 20 or 25 items, then you don’t have enough and you run out. We’re doing the best we can to try to be cognizant of the tradition, but also make sure that the people we want to show our appreciation for receive the gift,” said Kay

With the new season pass program proving successful at Saratoga, Kay said this year, season pass holders will be able to receive discounts at restaurants and businesses downtown as well as regional attractions.

Four new cottages are also being completed for backstretch workers.

The New York Racing Association has been surrounded by political controversy of late, as local leaders hoping to bring the organization back to a private non-profit could not come to an agreement with Governor Andrew Cuomo. Kay praised the organization’s current board and said it will continue to improve racing.

“There are days when I find it very frustrating and yet when I talk to our board members, I always have an uplifting moment. I call it a bounce in my step because they are such fine people and they are doing the right thing,” said Kay.

Coming off a record-breaking season last year boosted by American Pharoah’s Triple Crown, Kay said he’s already seen signs of another strong season at Saratoga.

“We had record attendance last year at Saratoga. And this year, at the Belmont Stakes, we had a number of young people all dressed up having a great time. In fact, the producer at NBC commented to me afterwards they’d never seen so many young people having a great time at the Belmont before, so we’re hoping that momentum will continue,” said Kay.

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