Tim Smith, the former commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association who is now heading Friends of New York Racing, announced some plans for the organization at a press conference in New York Feb. 16.
Friends of New York Racing is examining a new business model for Thoroughbred racing in the state. The franchise held by the New York Racing Association to operate racing at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga expires Dec. 31, 2007.
Speaking at McMahon of Saratoga farm, Smith announced the board of directors of Friends of New York Racing and released a timetable outlining some of the organization's goals.
The group plans to form a political action committee, along with an "industry advisory committee" and certain task forces; complete a preliminary report of its findings and recommendations; and, after a public comment period, finalize specific recommendations for state government, NYRA and the industry. The launch of a Web site is also planned.
The initial board of directors consists of:
Jared Abbruzzese, a New York owner; Dennis Brida, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders; Richard Bomze, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association; Charles F. Champion, CEO of Youbet.com; Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of the Oak Tree Racing Association; owner and breeder G. Watts Humphrey Jr.; Robert LaPenta, CFO of L-3 Communications and a New York owner; Jim McAlpine, president of Magna Entertainment Corp.; Alan Marzelli, president and COO of the The Jockey Club; Tom Meeker, president of Churchill Downs Inc.; Nick Nicholson, president of the Keeneland Association; Suzie O'Cain, stallion manager of Highcliff Farms; Tim Smith; D.G. Van Clief Jr., NTRA commissioner and president of Breeders' Cup Ltd.; Lorne Weil, CEO of Scientific Games Corp.; and David Willmot, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment Group.
"These Board members share a fundamental belief that racing is at a critical crossroads in the state," said Smith. "They are concerned about the industry's future, about the risks to jobs, farms, and small businesses if New York racing declines, and about flaws in its antiquated structure."
Smith outlined three of the first FNYR research projects, including a first round of public opinion research on New Yorkers' attitudes toward racing and wagering; a joint project with the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association to update an economic impact analysis for the industry in New York State; and a parallel project with New York Thoroughbred Breeders to develop an accurate demographic profile of New York horse farms.
"Similar to what we did on national issues at the NTRA, Friends of New York Racing believes the best way to develop a blueprint for positive change in New York is to start by establishing the facts," Smith said. "The joint studies announced today in conjunction with NYTHA and the New York breeding farms will be an important part of that process."
"There are 401 Thoroughbred breeding farms here in New York creating jobs and preserving working landscapes and green space," said Brida, who attended the press conference. "The combined business of breeding, raising and selling Thoroughbreds is one of New York's largest agricultural enterprises."
Smith also discussed the results of initial opinion polling of New Yorkers that indicated a strong favorable rating for racing in the state. The results also show strong support for using expanded legal wagering at existing Thoroughbred tracks to generate more revenue for favored programs like education, but also to improve racing.
According to the survey, among those with an opinion, New Yorkers view horseracing favorably by nearly a 2-to-1 margin (63%-37%). When provided with facts about jobs, farms, and economic impact, the support for the state's racing industry is even stronger.
The survey, conducted by Schneiders/Della Volpe/Schulman included telephone interviews with 807 New Yorkers from Jan. 21-26.
Respondents were also asked to evaluate a number of different facts about racing and breeding in terms of whether this information changed their opinion about Thoroughbred racing in New York (e.g., made it more or less favorable).
The most persuasive points, according to the survey, included the following:
–There are more than 40,000 jobs involved - 72%;
-- There are approximately 400 farms and 44,000 acres dedicated to horses and breeding, and maintaining green space, throughout the state - 64%
-- Adding video lottery terminals at the tracks would generate about $1 billion per year for the state, making it less likely that taxes would have to be raised to deal with the $5-billion deficit - 59%;
-- Saratoga Race Course in the summertime is one of the leading tourist attractions in the state - 56%.
Taxes and education dominate the issues of most concern to New Yorkers, with 67% considering these two as their first or second most important issues.
Of the respondents, 41% play the lottery frequently or occasionally, 22% go to a casino on the same basis, and 8% go to a Thoroughbred racetrack.
Only 13% are aware of who runs Thoroughbred racing in New York, 69% don't know whether it's a public or private entity, and 41% say that no major changes are needed.
Friends of New York Racing and the New York Thoroughbred Breeders will undertake a survey of New York Thoroughbred breeding farms to develop more accurate economic and demographic profiles.
"We've got 401 working breeding operations in 49 New York counties," Brida said. "We know the total numbers for mares, stallions, and foals in New York and we think that the vast majority of these farms are small businesses and that the people who make their livings from them depend on a healthy racing industry and the incentives of the New York breeding program. We want to be able to bring that to life with a solid economic, demographic profile of the typical New York breeding operation and we want to do that with hard data."
At the same time, Friends of New York and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association will co-sponsor a comprehensive economic impact analysis for the Thoroughbred racing industry in New York State. The project will be a New York-specific sub-set of an ongoing national study by Deloitte and Touche on the economic impact of the racing, performance horse and breeding industries and related businesses.