Like many in the racing world, I was at Saratoga for much of the past two weeks as the 2012 meeting came to a close. The racing was great – history was made with the first dead heat in the track’s signature race, the Travers. Perhaps the best horse to emerge at the meet was the 3-year-old filly Questing, keeping with recent tradition where fillies made the headlines (think Rachel Alexandra and Havre de Grace). Sky-high purses fueled by gaming revenues kept the entry box full for the most part, even with 20 more races than last year. And by all measures, wagering was strong, and average on-track attendance was up marginally.
There were some glitches along the way, particularly on opening day, which almost didn’t happen when the public address system had problems out of the gate. NYRA’s highly publicized public wi-fi initially worked sporadically. And at one point, water was shut off for a short time, closing the restrooms.
But all in all, it was a great meet helped by warm but dry weather on most days, and it proved that racing still has its shining moments.
Off the racetrack, however, was underlying uncertainty. Soon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will flex his muscle with respect to the three-year government takeover of the troubled New York Racing Association. A new governing board should be named by October 1. And just which NYRA employees will remain is unknown – it is speculated that new CEO Ellen McClain will be among the first to go.
On the regulatory front, a new gaming commission should be in place early next year, combining the Racing and Wagering Board with the gaming activities of the New York Lottery. The Lottery currently runs all the video gaming operations in the state and these will have gaming commission oversight. And let’s not forget about Cuomo’s plan to expand gaming with full commercial casinos; presumably at least some of those licenses will be issued to the existing tracks with video gaming, but that’s not a sure thing.
I do hope the new temporary NYRA board will realize the precious commodity it has in Saratoga and not continue down the path of “more is better.” Remember when Saratoga was the “August Place to Be” with 24 days? WIth 40 days, it is now the "Summer Place to Be," and most in the industry think that is pushing it. More race days, longer days and more races would be seriously counterproductive and turn the crown jewel of racing into an ordinary stone.