The big news coming out of Friday's New York Racing Association board meeting was the resignation of President and COO Ellen McClain. As the board looks to find her long-term replacement, many are wondering what the future holds for the long embattled organization and its crown jewel, Saratoga Race Course. YNN's Matt Hunter reports.
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – As a 28 year veteran and the longest serving member of the New York Racing Association's Board of Directors, Charles Wait has been through many of the organization's ups and downs. The way he sees it, New York racing is on the precipice of a golden era.
"I think racing in New York is in the best position it's been in, in 20 years," said Wait, who also serves as the President and CEO of Adirondack Bank and Trust in Saratoga Springs.
Several months ago, a statement like that might have seemed outlandish, as NYRA, which runs the Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct racetracks, was under fire for a spike in fatal breakdowns at Aqueduct and for overcharging bettors by $8 million. The organization’s woes culminated with the dismissal of former President and CEO Charles Hayward, along with a three year takeover by the state.
"We now have government as a partner and for the last 20 years, government has been an adversary,” Wait said Monday. “That has been an absolutely necessary ingredient to getting New York racing back to where it should be."
Following a meeting in New York City on Friday, which was the board's second since its re-structuring, a three year plan was posted on NYRA's website. Among the plan’s highlight are recruiting a new CEO, achieving greater transparency and financial sustainability and exploring changes to the racing calendar.
While Aqueduct's winter meet was immediately shortened from five days to four, Wait believes any changes to Saratoga's schedule are unlikely.
"You want to keep it first class and I think you do that by keeping the dates limited," said Wait, who added most of the discussion surrounding Saratoga’s schedule has centered around expanding the meet, rather than cutting days.
In a statement, John Hendrickson, who serves as a special Saratoga liaison to the board, says he too opposes drastic changes to Saratoga's racing schedule.
“It does not make sense to shorten our race days in Saratoga,” Hendrickson wrote. “We have the horse population and fans to make it work. The main reason we are curbing the race days at Aqueduct has to do with safety of our equine and human athletes."
Hendrickson also shares Wait's belief that finding a new CEO and devising a plan to re-privatize NYRA in three years are top priorities.
“These tracks are owned by the people of New York,” Hendrickson said. “We work for the people and we need to do a better job for them."
"All of the necessary ingredients for having the best racing in the country exist right now in New York State,” Wait said. “So it's very important that when we restructure it and get it ready to be privatized, we don't do it in a way that damages those dynamics."