Top officials of the New York Racing Association were peppered with more than an hour of questions on Monday night from some of racing’s most devoted local fans.
Questions during the 90-minute forum at the National Museum of Racing ranged from big-picture concerns, like the future of the Saratoga Race Course, to hyper-specific critiques, like one person’s uncomfortable experience during the day of the Travers because of crowds and big coolers.
The executives, who came from all aspects of NYRA’s operations, answered questions specifically when they could, as with the two- or three-year transition period to high-definition televisions in Saratoga, and promised to review everything else, like the number of race days or tweaking the giveaways.
Early in the forum, new NYRA CEO Christopher Kay addressed a concern about “bettor fatigue,” a complaint stemming from days of racing that keep getting longer and longer over the years, to the point where there were 14 races on the day of the Travers.
Much like the number of race days in Saratoga, he said the solution required a delicate balance that would consider the needs of fans in attendance and the bettors all over the country who like having a lot of races from Saratoga to bet on, as evidenced by the record amount of gambling on the day of the Travers. Kay said that to appropriately address the concerns of fans in attendance will require useful data, which is why he said they’re now monitoring when people start to leave the parking lots as a way to determine what fans in attendance want.
Other questions about the fan experience at Saratoga touched on the sound system, the bathrooms and the lack of high-definition televisions. Glen Kozak, vice president of facilities and racing surface, said numerous complaints have prompted the testing of new speakers in the backyard, promised improvements to the six video displays in the backyard for next year and noted that at least 50 picnic tables will be added for next year. He added that they hoped to have high-definition televisions throughout the facility in three years.
Kay touched on the bathrooms, saying that modernizing the bathrooms is part of NYRA’s effort to maximize the existing infrastructure before they consider long-term projects, like expanding the clubhouse. Following the Saratoga meet, he said their concern would be, “What do we need to do to upgrade the facilities we have … as opposed to going after something new?”
One of the big changes this year was the increased access to the Oklahoma training track with the establishment of the Whitney viewing stand, and Kay was asked what sort of access fans would have once the meet is over, specifically next year in the spring months leading up to the summer meet. “We will have a plan. We don’t have it yet,” he said, but noted that there hasn’t been much demand to get on the training track outside of the weekends.
During the forum, NYRA officials also rejected the idea of opening up the infield for the Travers, questioned the benefit of lowering takeout rates across the board, pledged to reform their rewards program to consider loyalty and said they would look at reforming the procedure for getting seats.
NYRA’s biggest challenges are outside of Saratoga, with the Aqueduct Race Track and Belmont Park both needing major changes. “We are going to do everything in our power to increase the attendance and the [gambling] and the activity at our two downstate locations,” Kay said, while stressing that these changes won’t jeopardize what makes Saratoga special.
The NYRA board of directors will hold a public meeting Wednesday morning in Saratoga Springs.