NYRA President Dave O'Rourke Discusses Racing In 2021 | WAMC

NYRA President Dave O'Rourke Discusses Racing In 2021

Jan 31, 2021

Due to the pandemic, the New York Racing Association in 2020 held races at its three tracks — including Saratoga Race Course — without fans in the stands. In Saratoga, it made for an eerie summer, with the normally packed picnic grounds and finish line desolate.  

NYRA recently announced the schedule for the 2021 meet at the Spa, with live racing scheduled from July 15th to Labor Day, but word is still out if fans will be allowed back on the historic grounds. 

WAMC's Lucas Willard spoke with NYRA President and CEO Dave O'Rourke about his hopes for bringing cheering crowds back to Saratoga Race Course this summer.

Dave O'Rourke: 

Ideally, we'd love 2021 to be more like 2019. Nobody wants to relive 2020 in any form. But you know, as the Buffalo Bills are playing, we're seeing what's going on in New York. And, you know, we're waiting guidance. You know, we're preparing for all eventualities. You know, we have a big event before the Belmont Stakes. So that's a bit of a precursor for us in terms of focus, operationally. But, you know, the hope will be that there's fans in Saratoga, and I think that there will I think there will be. I mean, but you know, it's always an educated guess in terms of capacity, what would testing be, like, you know, what are the vaccine vaccination levels? I mean, the state's doing an incredible job. I mean, it's a Herculean effort, really what's going on right now with the numbers that they're able to push through. But, you know, I wish I could give you a definitive answer. The only one I could give is that, you know, we're working with, with the state and with all our stakeholders, and we're seeing how some of these other sports roll out. And I think that'll kind of give us a pathway and a plan for how it might look for us.

Lucas Willard: 

You mentioned those Bills, games, those playoff games. And they had that limited testing and that capacity. So, yeah. Are we hopeful that something might be able to be rolled out in a similar way?

Dave O'Rourke: 

And I mean, that could be one version. You know, there could be...I don't remember what the cost was for those tests. But I imagine it gets more efficient as, as they produce them. And so there could be a version of that. It's really up in the air, Lucas, I mean, I wish I had a... yeah, you'll see baseball been, you know, and then we'll see, you know, right now at the track, you know, there's no fans still. In fact both our tracks downstate, or vaccination centers, which, you know, we're really glad we can contribute in that way to the effort. But, you know, this is more of an incremental wait and see approach. And, you know, we'll play it as we get the guidance.

Lucas Willard: 

I wonder how NYRA is viewing the fan response from last year, there was a lot of engagement, you know, remotely and online with online betting. And as far as virtual offerings in 2021, what's being planned? And is anything going to be expanded in that way?

Dave O'Rourke: 

Well, you know the television platform was huge for us in 2020. You know, it's something we've been working on for several years. But given when we came back live in June, and the availability on television, because a lot of the other sports were still offline, we were able to get a lot of hours on Fox and a lot of hours on FS1, actually, I think we did around 700 hours last year on television. So that's a huge platform for us. And that's, that's something that's incrementally grown and then kind of had a leapfrog effect this past year for us. And, and then, you know, as we got into everything last year for everyone was, you're adjusting on the fly. So there was virtual parties, and Saratoga actually went to a couple of them. They're pretty cool. So yeah, I mean, the marketing folks have some ideas. I mean, hopefully, this will just be an add-on to a more normal type of Saratoga, rather than a replacement for being at the track. But I think some of the stuff we've learned and some of the some of the engagement that people enjoyed, why not keep going on with it? And, you know, it's a nice different medium that I think everyone's kind of gotten used to in a way, but hopefully, it's more now just a nicety. Rather than necessity.

Lucas Willard: 

What kind of track improvements will be ready for 2021? I know there's some resurfacing being done at the Oklahoma training track. Anything else in the works? Yeah, that's

Dave O'Rourke: 

That's the main project. You know, we'd redone the main track, and the reception from the restrooms was overwhelmingly positive. The Oklahoma track, you know, it's a kind of a historic track, it's, it's a really nice training surface. So we wanted to take a look underneath it, see what kind of maintenance it might require. And in the process of that it made sense to, to kind of redo it in terms of the base and widen the section of it. So that project's big. In terms for the opening. It's gonna be a lot of cosmetic stuff. Not a lot of new projects. There's some projects slated for after the meet. But for the opening, I think what you're gonna see is a lot of paint. We had the 1863 [Club] going into the prior year now is a big project. So I think a lot of catch up on just, you know, I don't call it mundane, but it's maintenance stuff. And we were in the middle of doing the boxes in the box area. We were putting in tablets, we had tested them at the stretch. They received really well they worked really well. It's like TVs and bedding devices and actually you can order to food on them. So that'll be completed for the rollout. And, you know, nothing huge though. I think with 1863 that was a big project on the front side. And our folks now are just looking at, what can we do to straighten up the grandstand a little bit. And then there's always stuff on the backstretch in terms of dorms and buildings where we have a lot of upkeep. You know, with Saratoga, there's hundreds of buildings on the property.

Lucas Willard: 

And then last question I wanted to ask was the Horse Racing Integrity Act was signed into law at the end of 2020. And part of that is a national oversight panel. Will NYRA have any involvement? Or would you like to see any involvement from NYRA on that national oversight committee?

Dave O'Rourke:

Yes. So that committee is made up of independent folks. So we were huge supporters of this. We thought, continuity across jurisdictions in terms of rules and regs and safety protocols was paramount to the future of our sport. So we were one of the strongest supporters of Heiser. And we know, in terms of that the governing panel, it's important for the independence of it. But under that there's subcommittees of act with expertise, like tracks and safety in our track, or track director Glen Kozak is probably the most prominent in the country. And then, you know, New York and Dr. Palmer on medication. And folks like those will have inputs leading up to that governing body. It hasn't been completely fleshed out yet. I know they had the nominating committee. So they're still working through it. And I think the timeline for this would be no later than June of '22. So there's still some time for the formation there. But, you know, in terms of insight, I think in terms of the expertise on the panels on the subcommittees, I think it's important. I think independence on the governing side is important as well, so you won't see representation from NYRA on it. But I think you will see folks that are representative of expertise and maybe not even just horse racing, but other sports, but don't have an actual financial interest in the business at the time that they serve.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai