NYRA Missing Member for Saratoga Preview Panel Discussion

The annual Saratoga Preview took place July 20 at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. This year’s audience-driven discussion featured insight from four panelists covering Thoroughbred racing. The question and answer session included discussion on night racing, entertainment options to increase attendance, jockey promotion, Thoroughbred aftercare and control of the New York Racing Association. Interesting that no representative of the NYRA was present.

The Saratoga Preview panel included three-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Ramon Dominguez, Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Graham Motion, Starlight Stables founder Jack Wolf, and ST Publishing managing editor Tom Law.

National Museum of Racing HOFDominguez addressed the issue of the current race fan demographic and getting younger fans interested in racing with a focus on the experience at the track and relationships. That included offering a variety of entertainment options to get more people involved in racing with a goal of increasing attendance.

“We could be doing a better job,” the retired jockey said. “The current demographic of people who go to the track is 50 (years old) and up; they’re set in their ways and probably fine with the old model of racing.”

He also said racetracks could do a better job promoting jockeys, whose careers are much longer than those of racehorses.

“You will grow old following these guys, following a human, and being connected to this person,” Dominguez said to a round of applause. “It’s that human connection, which is really second to none.”

In response to a question from the audience about Thoroughbred aftercare, Wolf, who was instrumental in establishing the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, said that while awareness of the issue is broadening, the TAA has been unable to meet its original goal of mandating funding at each level of the industry.

“We raise $3 or $4 million a year, and that just scratches the surface of what’s needed,” Wolf said. “The Jockey Club has been very helpful with seed money, and I would love to see them possibly make it a sizable amount to register a horse. Presently they’re charging $25. If that could be something like $800 or $1,000, that would pretty much take care of the deal.”

Motion pointed out that racing is a “spectacle” at some of the boutique meets like the one opening at Saratoga July 22. The trainer raised concerns for many smaller tracks, and said given a smaller foal crop and the current number of racing days, some tracks will likely need to close in order to preserve the industry.

“Racing isn’t a spectacle on a Tuesday at (Parx Racing),” he said. “There’s too much racing and it’s a real struggle to fill entries. It puts a tremendous strain on horses and horsemen.”

Motion also noted the impact night racing, which has proven successful at several venues, can have on racing staff, but he acknowledged its ability to attract new customers.

“I think there’s a great future for it,” he said. “It’s easier for people to go after work, and it makes racing a social event. But it’s incredibly hard on the staff, who come in at 4:30 in the morning and don’t finish until 8:30 or 9 at night. It’s a tremendous strain on the outriders and the jockeys, too. But it’s definitely a concept that has something to be said for it.

“It worries me. We run very late here (at Saratoga) now. It’s a long day for everyone.”

The 40-day Saratoga meet, which opens July 22 with racing six days a week, continues through Labor Day, Sept. 5.

NYRA president and chief executive officer Christopher Kay addressed the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce July 21 during a breakfast event. He discussed a list of improvements that the special NYRA board were putting in place for the upcoming race season.

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