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Kay Talks About New Role at NYRA

Belmont Park

Post-Board Meeting Quotes from New NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay and Board Chair David J. Skorton

Q: What made this job attractive to you?

Chris Kay: “There were a number of factors. Number one was the fact we have some of the finest racetracks in America under NYRA. Number two, as you heard today, a tremendous Board. Number three, the locations are fantastic. Saratoga is beautiful and New York City is the best city in the world. And, number four, strong, passionate fans. So when you say ‘what do you need going forward?’ those are the four fundamental, foundational blocks for great success, so that was very attractive to me.”

Q: Can you talk about your background and/or experience in racing as a fan or otherwise?

Chris Kay: “I first went to a racetrack [Cahokia Downs, Alorton, IL] when I was 19 years old and fell in love with it, and went there every summer, frequently. I loved the experience. Later in life, as an attorney, I was part of a firm that represented people that owned stables in South Carolina and in Kentucky. And, in fact, I also developed a relationship with a friend of mine who owned a couple of horses, actually several very good ones – Don Dizney – who was suggesting I become the minority owner in some of those horses, like Wekiva Springs. I instead chose to go the baseball route, hoping we would land a major league team [in Orlando, Fl.] with a minor league team. But I have enjoyed the racing experience for decades.”

Q: Regarding Kay’s experience with land preservation and the future of Aqueduct Racetrack.

Chris Kay: “The organization [I worked for most recently] was the Trust for Public Land. It is a fantastic organization [that has] been able to acquire over three million acres of land converted into local, state, or federal parks. As far as the issue of Aqueduct is concerned, David [Skorton] and the committee say it’s one of the things we should look at.”

Q: Were there any apprehensions about taking the job?

Chris Kay: “No. Number one, it’s a challenge, and the opportunity to do better, and those are two very important things. I kid you not…this is a world-class Board, and the opportunity to work with them to create new solutions was very attractive. I want to learn from mistakes of the past, but there is so much talent around that table that we can create a future for decades to come for success in horse racing in this state, and that was a very compelling reason for me to express interest in the job.”

Q: Any top priorities?

Chris Kay: “Well, I haven’t even started yet, but I think number one, the Board has provided us with a three-year strategic plan, so I’m going to follow that strategic plan, and execute it. And, to summarize that, number one is going to be to enhance the guest experience for our racing fans and to recruit others to become new racing fans. The second is the re-privatization; to work with the kind of people we have at the table and with state government, and the third is just to improve the quality of racing and purses at every racetrack we operate.”

Q: Regarding the future of casino gaming in NYS.

Chris Kay: “I’m aware of the conversations [in Albany]. I do not have a position to express today. I am comforted by the fact that Governor Cuomo has selected a great Board and has expressed an interest in making sure that horse racing is very successful today and for years to come. I look forward to working with this Board and with state government to make sure that happens.”

Q: On hiring on an individual with a strong racing background to complement Kay’s leadership and management experience.

Chris Kay: “We are going to look at that. Clearly there are some very talented people in racing [and] to bring in someone like you describe I think could be very beneficial. “

NYRA Board Chair David J. Skorton on the selection of Chris Kay:

Chair David J. Skorton: “We looked at three big categories of candidates. Some were people who were extraordinarily experienced directly in thoroughbred racing. Some were turnaround specialists. Third were people who were very, very talented leaders and managers. At the end of the day, the search committee, number one, unanimously, thought it was very important to have someone with leadership and management experience. I’d like to say that a lot of problems NYRA has experienced in the past have not been because of lack of racing savvy, but because of lack of government savvy. That’s my point of view.

“Chris was a dream candidate for us because he cared about racing. He loves it. He’s been doing it since he was a young person and wants it to succeed, but basically he is a very strong manager and leader from different types of organizations – for profit, not-for-profit, [he’s worked in] organizations that had to deal in the governmental sector. We wanted someone who is experienced in making that connection, in the public-private partnership as opposed to the public-private war, and I think we’re going to go in the right direction.

“I’ve mentioned before the two huge, mega jobs of the new Board: One was to get new leadership and management, and I emphasize both leadership and management. And then secondly, to look toward re-privatization, however long that takes. That’s going to take some long-term vision.”

Q: Asked about the CEO salary and how bonuses will be determined.

Chair David J. Skorton:  “We have a balanced score card that we’ve developed. If you’re not familiar with that term, it’s a way to assess performance based on some quantitative metrics, like finances and things like that, there’s also qualitative metrics. I want to be very public about this: this is not a guaranteed extra $250,000. We made that very clear to Chris during the recruitment process. This is going to be performance-based and I’m a hard grader.”

 

 

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