One observer’s musings:
What is going on with the attendance? Initially it appeared that the Saratoga meet was off to a great start with all-source handle and reported attendance up significantly from last year. Recently though, the attendance reported by NYRA has been below figures from the comparable day last year.
Last year marked the start of NYRA’s imaginative new way of reporting attendance. After counting those who actually passed through the turnstiles, it then added those who had purchased a season pass but did not actually appear. About 6,400 such passes were sold last year, with five of six pass holders not attending on an average day. This year, approximately 8,400 passes were sold, and I suspect that NYRA is now also adding in reserved tickets sold in advance that are not used. (NYRA did not respond to my question on this latter issue.)
So with attendance figures being inflated by several thousand more than last year on each day, when the reported attendance falls below last year’s numbers, it is an ominous development. On Saturday, for example, NYRA reported attendance of 36,255 compared with 40,594 from last year. That’s a ten per cent drop even before it is discounted further by the pass holders and reserved tickets sold to those who did not appear. It is part of at least four days in a row with reported attendance being below the same day last year. Attendance data for this year is from The Saratogian Pink Sheet.
Now that Fabulous Fillies Day is over, what is New York doing to attract more women as fans? Teresa Genaro wrote a column in last week’s Saratogian that I did not think was particularly provocative, but sparked outrage from one anonymous troll who was effectively denounced by other commenters (each of whom used their name). In NYRA CEO Chris Kay’s initial press conference two years ago, he identified attracting more women as fans as one of his priorities. He had just started, so one would not expect he had fully-formed ideas. Since then, NYRA has continued the inane Fabulous Fillies Day where everyone wears pink and there is a celebratory lunch. but I cannot think of another initiative unless you count the equally inane concert for mothers and their girls starring someone who can now be seen in pimple commercials.
The NYRA Board continues to be a club for white men. Of the twenty who have been appointed by the Governor, legislative leaders and the “old” NYRA, there has been but one woman, and she has since resigned. There has yet to be a Latino/a or non-white appointee. The Governor has two vacancies to which he can make appointments, but has not done so in a while.
When I was writing about the disputed election for the presidency of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, I read the transcript of the appeal hearing. NYTHA Board members Linda Rice, Leah Gyarmati and Tina Bond each asked pointed and relevant questions getting to the heart of the issue. It made the standard NYRA Board meeting, by contrast, look even more pathetic. So there are knowledgeable women in the business who could make a contribution, but I guess their talents would be wasted if the current leadership is only interested in more yes-men.
Speaking of women and NYRA, it’s good NYRA did not give in to the salary demands of the now-former horse identifier. Writing in the Racing Form this week, David Grening reported on the departure of Carol Dolan, a 31-year employee of the Horse Identification Office. Dolan had assumed the duties of chief horse identifier following the resignation of her predecessor, Janet Reid. When Dolan’s salary requests were not met, she resigned. I don’t know what she was thinking. This NYRA clearly does not value those who are not only professional horse people – and one who plays an important role in the integrity of the game – but long-time employees. After all, when you have to to pay a Chief Experience Officer – whose salary is the same as the General Counsel – you are not going to get that coin by charging for picnic tables. At some point, Chris Kay is sure to tell us what has been accomplished by this brain storm of his.
I’m sorry, but what racing are we talking about here? Growing attention is being paid to the influence of performance-enhancing drugs in Track and Field. As the New York Times reported, the “doping drumbeat is hardly new to track and field, but it is back to deafening levels amid recent allegations of widespread doping by Russian and Kenyan athletes and reports of suspicious blood values recorded by many leading athletes in endurance events in the 2000s.”
I laughed, though, when I read the defense of the sport by a representative of the International Association of Athletics Federations:
If you don’t follow the rules, they’ll take you down. So why are we getting torn down as a sport for that? Do you think other sports would take some of their biggest stars and let you know that they did something very wrong? No. Track and Field does, but since track and field does that, we get torn down.
Kind of sounds like those who are still in denial that horse racing has a doping problem.