The economic numbers for the first half of the 2017 U.S. racing year are in and the results are a mixed bag. Wagering, the monetary force that drives the game, was up for the entire year, the most recent in June in line with that. This is the good news.

The bad is that the rest of the economic indicators, those for purses, number of races, race days, number of starters and average field size were down across the board for the same periods; purses for the year being the lone positive.

All indicators are especially significant for the New York Racing Association because it handles 20 percent of all U.S. wagers. Some credit must be due NYRA for generating positive news because of the added visibility it provides via greater national exposure of its quality racing product.

The Stars & Stripes Festival at Belmont Park Saturday is the most recent example of the kind of “big-day” marketing philosophy NYRA employs to drive handle. Big NYRA races on live TV via the NBC and NBC Sports Networks lends heft to New York racing across the country.

Additionally, NYRA’s high quality house-produced “Belmont Live” and “Saratoga Live,” programs that can be seen on various FOX Sports networks, MSG+ and Altitude is the kind of video that the industry badly needs.

Further, NYRA Bets, NYRA Now, NYRA-HD and NYRA-XP are helping fill the betting shelves with content in the manner that Disney fills the shelves at Toys R’ Us.

NYRA latest big day, including five graded stakes, was scheduled in close proximity to Independence Day, normally viewed as racing’s dog days of summer but it also signals that destination venues such as Saratoga and Del Mar will soon open their gates.

One can gamble anywhere and on anything. To be appreciated and grow the fan base, racing must first be experienced live.

As for the numbers, Saturday’s live gate of 12,667 was excellent, up from last year’s 7,753 patrons. Total handle dipped slightly to $22,341,422, compared to 2016’s $22,980,823 but on-track handle of $3,084,823 was up a few ticks from 2016’s $2,898,825.

Regardless of the marginal differences year over year, these figures are two to three times greater than routine Saturday programs. Top class racing sells. The numbers clearly indicate that NYRA’s big-event approach is popular both locally and nationally.

Stars & Stripes Day happened to mark the final appearance of the popular former jockey and racing analyst Richard Migliore on “Belmont Live.” Migliore announced his intentions to leave NYRA weeks ago.

Migliore’s absence figured to leave a huge hole in the NYRA broadcast team but the vacancy was quickly filled when it contracted Paul Lo Duca, who announced publicly last week that he was ending his nine-year association at the TVG network.

Tony Allevato, President of NYRA Bets and Executive Producer for NYRA TV, also a former TVG executive, tapped Lo Duca to fill the vacancy, which completes a TVG-to-NYRA trifecta. Lo Duca joins a team hosted by Greg Wolf, a former TVG host.

When Lo Duca is coupled with the irascible Andy Serling, it should provide the kind of drama that drives today’s TV. Tom Amoss is also due back in 2017 for more of the popular and lively Amoss and Andy segments.

Once again, Gabby Gaudet returns to the Spa this season, joining regular paddock analyst Maggie Wolfendale and track announcer Larry Colmus.

Migliore’s popularity is such that it came as no surprise when racing television social media trolls panned the Lo Duca hiring with critics erring on the side of unfavorable. This is unfair, of course. Lo Duca has earned better than that.

NYRA has been good at creating recent marketing opportunities. In May, it announced that an agreement was reached with FOX Sports Prime Ticket and FOX Sports San Diego to broadcast “Saratoga Live” throughout the meeting, virtually in Del Mar’s backyard.

"Fox Sports Prime Ticket and Fox Sports San Diego have long served as the Southern California home of Thoroughbred racing," said Allevato. Now it will serve NYRA, too.

NYRA’s move gives its ADW, NYRA Bets, exposure to a new market. California players could benefit by having a NYRA Bets option, opposed to the one they presently have with restricted in-state ADW’s.

Clearly, this is a shot across the bow of California racing, already in disarray. Those events have been well chronicled in both mainstream and social media.

Governor Andrew Cuomo dubbed this summer “The Summer of Hell” because of the mass transit nightmare caused by current track repairs at Penn Station. For NYRA, however, it’s more like “The Summer of Swell.”

The Spa is where the goose lays its golden eggs. Time will tell whether NYRA’s big-event strategy will produce more successful results with its incursion into California. This year, Del Mel will not be the only turf that meets the surf.

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BETS 'N BYTES


NEW NYRA LOGO UNIFIES BRAND: NYRA introduced its new logo on Stars & Stripes Day and it complements the NYRA Bets logo, neatly integrating and unifying its brand. The reaction on social media, as anticipated, was decidedly against the change.

LASIX OR NO LASIX, THAT IS THE QUESTION: A resolution was passed at the June 26 meeting of the New York State Gaming Commission requiring third party administration of race day Lasix, as was previously adopted at NYRA tracks.

The declaration resulted in a serious and lively discussion concerning the possibility of limiting or completely eliminating race day Lasix in New York.

Ultimately, the commissioners decided the topic merits further review and punted. Expect it to be on the agenda as new business in Saratoga, either during July 24 or August 28 NYSGC meetings, or both.

Martin Panza, NYRA’s Senior Vice President of Racing Operations and architect of the successful Stars & Stripes concept, will be invited to participate.

SARATOGA INSIDE INFO: Clocking horses and tracking racetracks, veteran clocker Bruno De Julio (Racingwithbruno‏ @Racingwithbruno) recently tweeted: “Saratoga Main Track - added materials - clay added to main. Turf course - new sod and new irrigation system - turf looks grand.”

Props to De Julio for the good information. Additional clay in the track cushion allows it to hold more water, therefore the main track could play a little differently when wet and as it dries out; it will bear watching. The refurbished turf course is less likely to play differently but keep a watchful eye.

ELMONT, NY, July 11, 2017