NYRA Not Close to Naming McClain's Successor

Board chairman David Skorton says an interim replacement for outgoing CEO likely.

By Teresa Genaro

Six weeks after the official start of the search for a chief executive officer for the New York Racing Association, chairman David Skorton indicated that the board is not close to, nor has it set a target date, for naming someone to replace Ellen McClain, who leaves April 30.

During the April 11 NYRA board meeting, Skorton said more than 150 people have been interviewed as prospects or sources of prospects. He stressed that candidates continue to express interest in the position and that those interviewed come from a wide range of industries, including racing, gaming, hospitality, and other sports.  He was surprised, he said, by the number of people interested, adding that once a short list has been created, it will be brought to the full board.

Without a timetable for naming a CEO, Skorton asked Michael Del Giudice, chair of the nominations and governance committee, to develop a recommendation for interim leadership within the next 10 days.

Also discussed at both the general board meeting and a meeting of the equine safety committee that took place earlier in the day, was the continued exploration of installing a synthetic surface at Aqueduct Racetrack. Several varieties of Polytrack were presented to members of the board.

Anthony Bonomo, chair of the equine safety committee, pointed out that the discussion of changing the racing surface goes beyond equine safety to matters that would involve the board's racing and finance committees, including how a synthetic surface would affect field size and the types of races carded, and the cost of installing it.

Bound to the question of changing a racing surface is the future of New York racing and its facilities, said Michael Dubb, co-chair of the board's long-term planning committee.  "Logic tells you," he said, "that it's not sound practice to operate two facilities side by side," referring to Belmont Park and Aqueduct, which are less than 10 miles apart.

If a new surface were to be installed at Aqueduct, it would likely replace the current winterized inner track, with a new limestone-based surface replacing the main dirt track.

As part of a rosy picture of future earnings, the board returned to the long-discussed possibility of NYRA's opening off-track betting locations in New York City, a population under-served since the closing New York City OTB in 2010.

Stuart Subotnick, chair of the finance committee, noted that such locations are projected to open in 2014, but he also cautioned that a number of hurdles need to be cleared, and quickly, for that to happen. Although NYRA would use existing restaurants and sports bars, state and city approval is needed to move forward. As the New York State legislature shuts down in June, legislation would need to be passed before that to make a 2014 opening feasible.

Other items on the agenda included a review of NYRA's 2013 finances and the recently concluded inner track meet at Aqueduct; an update on the status of NYRA's tote contract; and approval of the remaining 2013 stakes schedule. A date for the next board meeting has not been set.