The subject of winter racing at Aqueduct was raised during the recent meeting of the newly configured board of directors of the New York Racing Association, where some sentiment was detected that it was in the sport's best interest to take a winter break. Our readers agreed, with 69.6% of them saying in a Paulick Report poll that NYRA should cease live racing at Aqueduct for at least part of the winter.
Richard Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and an ex-officio member of the NYRA board, has a different point of view, and one that takes into consideration the impact this could have on jobs, the breeding industry, and revenue for horsemen and NYRA.
Thanks to the New York THA for granting us permission to republish his recent commentary from the association's newsletter. – Ray Paulick
There has been much discussion of late on the topic of winter horse racing in New York. There are some who feel the sport would be better off without it. Nothing could be further from the truth. If winter racing is eliminated in New York, it will cripple the Thoroughbred industry in the state.
Opponents of winter racing too often form opinions without examining the ramifications, and the many dominoes that would tumble without it. There are many reasons why winter racing is a vital aspect of New York's Thoroughbred industry. Chief among them are the thousands of jobs supported by the industry. These jobs are central to racing's importance to the state. If you interrupt the cycle of year-round racing for any significant length of time, you also disrupt the cycle of full-time employment it creates. If winter racing is shut down for even a month or two, the barn areas at Aqueduct and Belmont Park would empty out, and we could lose 3,000 to 5,000 jobs in the blink of an eye.
The New York breeding industry would also take a huge hit. The New York-bred program is sustained in no small part by the purses earned in restricted races over the winter months. If you reduce the number of racing opportunities for New York-breds, you also reduce the incentive to participate in the New York breeding industry, and curtail the development of what is fast becoming one of the most vibrant breeding programs in the country.
Breeders would not be motivated to bring new broodmares and stallions to the state, and the breeding stock already here could be shipped to states with more advantageous programs, taking thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue with them.
Aqueduct is a money maker for the New York Racing Association. The presence of Resorts World has greatly reduced racing's physical footprint in the Aqueduct grandstand, in turn greatly reducing NYRA's overhead. The racing, while it is clearly not our “A Game,” still generates significant handle. Revenue is up, the profit margin has grown – winter racing has a positive impact on NYRA's bottom line. When the doors finally open to the long-awaited Longshots simulcasting facility at Aqueduct, the balance sheets will look even better.
Winter racing also supports purses throughout the year. The revenue from the handle at Aqueduct outpaces the level of purses distributed in the winter, allowing the NYRA purse fund to grow, and enabling NYRA to offer bigger purses during the Belmont spring and fall meets, and at Saratoga. This attracts better horses and produces high-quality racing. which in turn generates higher handle. To jeopardize this cycle would be simply bad business.
There is no question that our energies and our resources must be used to improve both the racing product and the racing experience. A better product on a day-to-day basis benefits the entire industry. And exploring all options to improve the safety of the horses and riders must always be a priority.
But efforts must be directed at making improvements not only at Saratoga in August, but at Aqueduct in January as well.
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