NYRA cuts purses for Big A meet
By David Grening
ELMONT, N.Y. – After suffering double-digit percentage declines in handle at Saratoga and at the current Belmont meet, the New York Racing Association will cut purses by 10 percent for the Aqueduct meet which opens Oct. 29.
The cut means that purse levels will go back to what they were in January 2007, NYRA president and CEO Charles Hayward said Friday. As examples, Hayward said that open maiden special weight sprint purses drop to $43,000 from $48,000; first-level allowance sprints go from $50,000 to $45,000; New York-bred maiden sprints will be worth $41,000 from $44,000; and New York-bred first-level allowance sprints go from $46,000 to $43,000.
Hayward said the cuts were necessitated by daily average handle declines of 10.6 percent at Saratoga and 10 percent at Belmont.
"This is at least the schedule through the end of December," Hayward said. "But to be honest with you, given where the economy is and just where are things are I think this is probably at least an Aqueduct winter meet schedule."
The Aqueduct winter meet goes through the end of March.
Hayward noted that the Jockey Club recently stated that all-sources wagering for the entire industry was down 10 percent for the third quarter.
While naturally disappointed with the cuts, horsemen could not really argue.
"It’s hard to dispute at this time," said Rick Violette, head of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and a recent addition to the NYRA board. "Business was down for a lot of reasons at Saratoga and they’ve been down at Belmont. It’s almost universal; numbers were horrible in Jersey and even Keeneland is down 24 percent. The numbers are pretty startling but understandable."
Management and the horsemen met Friday and talked about a wide range of topics including racing surfaces. Hayward said NYRA has "no plans near term" to switch any of their tracks from dirt to synthetic.
"And there was no one there that was advocating for artificial surfaces," Hayward said.
Hayward confirmed that NYRA will lay off 42 employees when Aqueduct opens. That includes 19 seating attendants, or whitecaps, 16 parking personnel, five admission clerks, and two program sellers. There will be free admission and parking offered at Aqueduct.