NYRA News: Belmont Re-Development? Where’s Jimmy Winkfield? And More Spa Passes?

If you listen to local news radio in New York City, you might have caught the following advertisement over the last few weeks, in which a man who says he’s a resident of Elmont, one of the towns that borders Belmont Park, voices his concern about New York State “making the right decisions about developing Belmont Racetrack (sic).”

“We don’t need a mega soccer stadium with 25,000 seats that will never be filled. We need things that will bring value to our community, like housing for young professionals, a supermarket, a community center, parks, a shopping area where people want to visit, and re-opening the railroad station at Belmont.

“This shouldn’t be about big sports attracting little crowds. It’s about the people who live here. Ask the people of Elmont. That’s what we want. That’s what we deserve.

“This message from the Elmont Community Coalition Counsel was proudly sponsored by Engel Burman, Elmont’s partner in progress.”

Engel Burman is a real estate development group based in Garden City, New York, an affluent community (unlike Elmont) a short drive from Belmont.  I’ve heard the ad several times recently, and as I’m not tuned into local AM commercial radio all that often, it seems to be in pretty regular rotation.

Further Belmont development news was a topic at Monday’s Franchise Oversight Board meeting, when NYRA president/CEO Chris Kay was asked about a recent Newsday article (subscription required) that reported that Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, drafted a letter asking that $50 million of the state’s $5 billion surplus be devoted to “roadway, transit and pedestrian improvements at Belmont Park.”

Responded Kay, “I’m not aware of this letter. This is the first I’ve ever heard of it. We’ve met with…this is the first I’ve heard of it.”

“It may be,” a board member suggested, “something good to explore.”

“I would agree,” said Kay.

Among the Long Island Association’s priorities for 2014 are “supporting re-development plans at Belmont.”

I’m guessing that the current building and refurbishment of barns and dorms on the Belmont backstretch aren’t what they have in mind.

In other NYRA news:

The 2015 Aqueduct winter stakes schedule has been published, though it’s not up on the NYRA website. Plenty of changes, but the one that strikes me (no surprise here) is the symbolic one.

In 2005, the Best Turn Stakes was re-named the Jimmy Winkfield to honor the black jockey who had been inducted into the Hall of Fame the previous year.  He won the Kentucky Derby in 1901 and 1902, and his eponymous race was intentionally slated for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

This year, the stakes race on that holiday is the brand-new Jazil; the Winkfield will be run on February 28. There are, I am sure, very good reasons that the Winkfield was moved, but it certainly seems a shame that NYRA’s admirable initiative of a decade ago has been diminished.

At the Franchise Oversight Board meeting, Kay was asked if he could share the combined salaries of NYRA’s three race callers: Larry Collmus, John Imbriale, and Travis Stone.

He could not, he said, implying that he didn’t know off-hand, and adding that that information is in the public domain.  (If one wants to file a FOIL request for it.)

Asked if he would come to the next FOB meeting with the figures, he demurred—sort of.

“I’ll be glad to do that if I’m required to, but I want you all to understand this is a very competitive business we’re in. We compete again Stronach Group all the time; we’ve lost some people that were employed by us to Stronach. We take people from others…the more we have these numbers out in the public domain, the more difficult it is for us to be able to successfully compete against our major competitors.

“I hope you understand how difficult it is for us to keep people when this kind of information is out there.”

Kay also acknowledged that capping Saratoga season passes at approximately 6,000 was likely a mistake, implicitly suggesting that more passes would be sold in 2015.

Stay tuned for reports of record-smashing attendance for Saratoga 2015.




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