NEW NYRA CEO: Chances that the next President of the NYRA will come from inside the industry are 2-1 against. HRI has learned that the executive search committee will have submitted a list of three names to the NYRA Board in advance of the next public meeting, June 10: Two are from outside the industry, one has industry experience.

It would seem state politics likely is playing a huge roll in this. However, a fresh perspective--provided that person is surrounded by the best and brightest advisers--might be a welcome change. After all, didn’t it take a horseplaying whistleblower to point out that the increased exotic takeout provision in the law had already sunset, leading to the dismissal of two top NYRA executives, including its CEO?
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*from HRI post, June 2

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, June 19, 2012—Let the new era begin.

Whether Christopher Kay is the right man to guide the future of New York Thoroughbred racing at its highest levels remains to be seen. After all, if his ultimate compensation is performance-based, so should any assessment as to whether he’s the right man for the job. Tell will tell.

Anyone who believes that racing in this state is the linchpin for the overall future of the sport in general probably has their minds right. And anyone who thinks that the new New York Racing Association needs to be able to play a mean game of chess is also on target. Especially with what Gov. Cuomo has in mind.

In Cuomo’s state of the state address, he talked about how a healthy racing industry is important for his state; for its coffers, for prestige, for tourism, and for the overall desire to affirm that New York still has what it takes to call itself the Empire State. That, too, is a wait-and-see proposition.

What’s been troubling in state racing matters since the Governor’s address is that you don’t have to listen all that carefully to hear him walk back the racing rhetoric, that’s it’s about the almighty Benjamins, that full-blown casino gambling is the destination where the public’s discretionary dollars can do the state the most good and that, frankly, he’s not too pleased with the remunerative deal racinos have carved out for themselves.

Now that grandfather has lovingly patted casino gambling on the head, what can we do about racing’s very high costs of putting on a show? Electronic games don’t call in sick and never ask for a raise. But for racing, it’s even more dire than that.

This new accord with Native American tribes meant to balance the state’s books and extract more money from Native American gaming now and in the future--money that they can afford and which the state badly needs—could be the beginning of the end of the fiscal partnership between racinos and the state. The Governor’s accord puts a restraint a future racino trade.

If racing is to have a successful future in the Governor’s view, it, like casinos, must also have a destination worth supporting. Enter, hopefully, Christopher Kay, the new NYRA Board, and any advisors that come aboard in the future. It was heartening to see that some of the early cut from the Aqueduct casino has gone into make living standards for Saratoga stable-hands acceptable, long overdue.

Said Kay after his official installation as President and CEO: “The organization [I worked for most recently] was the Trust for Public Land… [that has] been able to acquire over three million acres of land converted into local, state, or federal parks. As far as the issue of Aqueduct is concerned, David [Skorton] and the committee say it’s one of the things we should look at.

“…The Board has provided us with a three-year strategic plan so I’m going to follow that strategic plan and execute it…Number one is going to be to enhance the guest experience…and to recruit others to become new racing fans. The second is the re-privatization…and the third is just to improve the quality of racing and purses at every racetrack we operate.”

And then he offered this: “I’m aware of the conversations [in Albany]. I do not have a position to express today. I am comforted by the fact that Governor Cuomo has selected a great Board and has expressed an interest in making sure that horse racing is very successful today and for years to come. I look forward to working with this Board and with state government to make sure that happens.”

If racing is to have a prayer of succeeding, Kay’s final observation would be the Great Amen. Fortunately, while Saratoga might need some tweaking here and there, it is in very good stead as one of the world’s greatest racing destinations.

But the future of Aqueduct as a racetrack must be addressed. It’s impossible to envision that it will live in perpetuity. And that probably would be just fine with the Genting folks. What happens to all that money ultimately might be Cuomo’s vision, not NYRA as a racing franchise.

And what of “beautiful Belmont Park?” What happens to it? What does its future look like? Clearly, given its proximity to JFK, its location on the Queens/Nassau County border, and its unique layout as a racetrack, it should be the destination that will be the envy of racetracks anywhere in the world.

Kay’s qualifications make him a superb choice for the job. But whether he will be able to go the distance is a matter of more than pedigree.