Nearly two months have passed since the demise of New York City OTB, and the outlook remains somewhat promising for the New York Racing Association.
Most encouraging amidst the January numbers are the overall attendance figures. Last year, Aqueduct’s average daily attendance was 3,115. This January, that number has jumped nearly forty-five percent to 4,510. Throw in the 230 patrons a day who are frequenting the Belmont Café, and you have a daily average of nearly 5,000 watching the races at NYRA’s two downstate tracks. This aggregate number is all the more impressive when taking into account the unusually harsh weather this January. Though the cards have been cancelled on the heaviest snow days, it hasn’t been particularly easy to navigate around the city on any day this past month.
These statistics would seem to suggest that when the weather improves, and the action shifts to Belmont in May, even bigger crowds could be in the offing. It’s been a long time since five figure weekend crowds have been the norm at Big Sandy on Saturdays and Sundays. If the current trends hold, such crowds become, at the very least, a possibility for the spring/summer meet.
As for the handle numbers, they are down, but not staggeringly so. The all-sources average per NYRA race this January is $646,530, down approximately 13 percent from last January’s $741,694. Again, though, it’s worth noting that NYRA gets ten cents per dollar wagered directly through them, as opposed to 2.5 cents per dollar wagered at NYC OTB.
What’s most encouraging about these numbers is the fact that some of NYRA’s promotional initiatives have clearly helped cushion the blow of NYC OTB’s closure. NYRA Rewards, NYRA’s account wagering service, saw January’s handle grow a staggering 65 percent over last January. And the 230 fans that utilize the Belmont Café contributed $76,283 per day to the NYRA and simulcast pools. Going a step further with the data, this shows that each fan is averaging approximately $332 in wagers per day.
What does this mean? It means that not only has NYRA succeeded in getting smaller players (who may not have had anything better to do with their day than board one of the complimentary shuttle buses) to come to the track and flutter a few dollars on the races. It means they’ve been successful in keeping their bigger players active.
“While it’s still too early to make any definitive conclusions,” NYRA spokesman Dan Silver cautioned. “We are encouraged by the returns so far.”
It stands to reason that the less a politician says, the more popular they are. Until delivering his state budget address earlier this week in Albany, newly elected Governor Andrew Cuomo was quite a popular figure with the New York electorate. He was sent to the Governor’s mansion with over sixty percent of the vote, and his approval rating was hovering near the seventy percent mark.
New York’s horsemen, though, didn’t know quite what to make of him, given his silence on many racing issues. Tuesday, though, Cuomo finally spoke up on a racing issue and proved that, indeed, he was better off keeping silent.
Cuomo proposed an across the board 2.75 percent tax on racing purses. For a community that has been already hard hit with taxes, and has had to wait nearly a decade for a revenue stream that was promised to them years ago (VLT’s), this would be another enormous blow.
James Tedisco, a Republican who represents Schenectady and Saratoga in the state Assembly, told the Saratogian that he believed the Governor might be going back on his earlier promise of not creating any new taxes.
“This, to me, is another gimmick to provide funding through a backdoor process,” said the Assemblyman. “I don’t think that bodes well for the overall message.”
The good news for New York horsemen is that New York State’s history of passing budgets makes the 2000 Presidential election seem orderly by comparison. So despite the fact that the budget is due in April, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the horsemen to expect a six-month reprieve from this proposed tax. Their hope is that, by then, they will be able to offset the tax with VLT-inflated purses.
Now that we’ve choked down our vegetables, what do you say we get to dessert?
Let’s talk racing, shall we?
This weekend marks the last racing weekend prior to the Kentucky Derby where there
won’t be any graded stakes races for three year-olds. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a few Derby aspirants in action. Gulfstream’s third race on Saturday includes several intriguing prospects looking to prep for either the Fountain of Youth or Florida Derby.
And locally, all eyes are on the featured eighth race, the 32nd running of the Whirlaway Stakes. This race was noteworthy last year for the ill-fated attempt of scatterbrained speedball Eightyfiveinafifty to handle two turns. He didn’t get to try the second, as he very badly blew the first, crashing through fences and running wild through the barn area before finally being corralled safely.
Trainer Gary Contessa, who saddled Eightyfiveinafifty a year ago, will look to avoid a repeat of the ugly incident with his charge in this year’s running, Preachintothedevil. A last out stakes winner in the Champagneforashley on New Year’s Day, he figures to be a key player in the Whirlaway, which serves as the de facto prep for the March 5th Gotham. Preachintothedevil will once again meet Sky Music, a Todd Pletcher trainee, who finished third to Preachintothedevil last out, beaten 3½ lengths.
Another notable entrant in the race is Rescindthetrade, who goes out for trainer Rick Violette. Rescindthetrade, 2-for-2 lifetime, originally went down to Gulfstream as part of Violette’s Florida string. But Violette sent him back to New York as he believed Rescindthetrade wasn’t handling the warm weather well. Alan Garcia makes the trip up from Florida as well to take the call.
Four weeks to the Gotham. Nine to the Wood. And thirteen to the Derby. Indeed, the march to Louisville has commenced.
Photo Courtesy of Adam Coglianese/NYRA