I guess all you need to know about the leadership of the New York Racing Association is that CEO Chris Kay has already declared this year’s event “the best Belmont Stakes ever” – three days before a contestant sets hoof on the track. I foolishly thought that Secretariat had established a pretty high bar.
But to Kay, the race is apparently an afterthought. He may think that the tens of thousands showing up at Belmont Park are for the NYRA “experience,” but most will be there for one reason only – to see if California Chrome can break the thirty-six year drought in accomplishing the Triple Crown.
In opening remarks before the post-position draw for Saturday’s race, Kay listed NYRA’s three goals for the event: attracting athletes capable of delivering a superior performance; great entertainment; and, a “differentiated guest experience” – whatever that means.
NYRA has, indeed, created a tremendous card that includes six Grade I events. As I have written previously, it comes at the expense of stripping its once-signature day of racing on Memorial Day which had three Grade I events. Making your headliner a Grade III works at Saratoga on a Wednesday afternoon, but for the start of summer?
As for the entertainment, I have never thought people go to the track for musical acts. That’s why the Times Union Center or Proctors exist. Is there anyone who is actually going to go to a race track to hear Frank Sinatra, Jr. attempt his father’s version of the iconic “New York, New York?” I did not even know there was a Frank Sinatra, Jr. until he appeared in an episode of The Sopranos, playing himself in a poker game – and not singing.
And then there is the band that covers the music of the Eagles. Now we all have our differing tastes in music, but I would not cross the street to see the original group if tickets and the beer were free.
As for the “differentiated guest experience,” I think most fans – excuse me, “guests,” – particularly women, would be happy to not wait in endless lines for the restroom.
While I think Kay is to be commended for coming up with different approaches to building the fan base – and I do not think any idea should be rejected out-of-hand – when he declares this the “best Belmont Stakes ever” on Wednesday, he is losing sight of what gets people into this sport – the horse.