A revamped racing program, enhancements to the customer experience, and a continued decline in equine fatality rates were among the successes trumpeted at the Aug. 6 meeting of the board of directors of the New York Racing Association in Saratoga Springs.
And in return, NYRA president and chief executive officer Christopher Kay got a bonus and a raise.
With board member Charles Wait of Saratoga chairing the meeting in the absence of David Skorton, Kay pointed to the record-setting on-track pari-mutuel handle of $20.5 million on the day of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and the 18% handle increase over 2013 on the Fourth of July holiday weekend, on which the inaugural Stars and Stripes day was held. It featured five graded stakes, including the first editions of the renamed Belmont Oaks and Belmont Derby (both gr. IT).
Kay also noted the opening of the Longshots simulcast facility at Aqueduct Racetrack and the installation of 750 HD televisions at Saratoga Race Course as examples of improved guest experiences at NYRA tracks.
Since the surge in equine fatalities at Aqueduct in 2012, fatality rates have declined steadily. According to figures provided by NYRA, 2.1 horses per 1,000 starters died during racing in 2012; that number declined to 1.3 in 2013 and is 1.0 to date in 2014.
For the six-month period ending June 30, NYRA reported an increase of 8.2% in revenue from racing operations over 2013. There was a 51.2% drop in net income that chief financial officer Susanne Stover credited to a 130% increase in non-operating expenses that include retiree benefits, pension, depreciation, and income tax expenses.
The success of Belmont Stakes day and an increase in video lottery terminal revenue of 2.7% from last year leave NYRA with year-to-date net income of nearly $14 million. Kay said NYRA is currently operating at a break-even level for the first time in 14 years.
In praising Kay for restoring NYRA to profitability, increasing transparency, improving customers' experience, and hiring a strong management team, the board recommended he receive a $250,000 bonus and a 3% raise. Kay took over as NYRA CEO and president in July 2013 at a salary of $300,000.
The board also announced that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had appointed Marc Holliday, CEO of SL Green Realty Corp. and founder of Blue Devil Racing Stable, to the board. He replaces Jane Rosenthal, who left the board in May.
Among the board's mandates is to submit a plan for reorganization when NYRA reverts from state control in October 2015. The deadline for the plan is April 2015, but Michael Dubb of the board's long-term planning committee said that he expects to submit it by the end of this year. The plan is expected to include a recommendation about the future of Aqueduct.
In light of the recent proposal by some of New York's top trainers to ban the use of the race-day medication furosemide by 2016, the board voiced its support for the New York State Gaming Commission to adopt the medication model rules adopted by the Association of Racing Commissioners International.
While noting the NYSGC will make final decisions regarding race-day medication, Kay said NYRA is working with New York equine medical director Dr. Scott Palmer on the "best ways to use science" to formulate a position on the issue.