Here's NYRA's press release detailing the planned capital improvements at the three tracks; both ones that already are in place, and those yet to come. The announcement comes after all of the recent bad publicity over Aqueduct, as described in the prior post; and as board member Len Riggio piled on, speaking to David Grening in the Form. “It’s dirty, it’s dangerous, it’s just really not good.”
Well, we've already established that it's not dirty nor dangerous. As far as it being good, it could be if there was a nice new place to hang out. NYRA still says that the Longshots bar on the second floor will be open for the Wood. Could be, but they are going to have to rally to make that happen based on what I saw on Sunday.
A lot of the rest of the list for Aqueduct are things already in place, such as some fresh paint, Trakus, HD, and improved lighting. More is promised to come, including "airport-style seating" on the second floor, hopefully in place of those desks, which remove any sense of camaraderie and community. (Ah yes, the community of horseplayers!) Feels more like a library now, people off by themselves in their little spot reading to themselves. Also on the list is an "on-track extension of the Aqueduct Murals project," which hopefully will include giving the existing works some more respect by not placing trash bins and equipment in front of them, and providing proper lighting where needed.
A generous and exciting list of improvements for Saratoga, as you might imagine.....you can see those in the press release. Let's get to Belmont, because that's where the big bombshell is. Which you wouldn't even know by reading that press release, because it's not mentioned at all. It's mentioned by Grening in his article, and quite casually.
At Belmont Park, the grandstand will be closed...Huh?
At Belmont Park, the grandstand will be closed...Whoa. Obviously, this does not mean that the outdoor areas of the grandstand will be closed. The backyard is getting a new music stage; the paddock a new video board (hooray!) and they'll be a new paddock concession with a patio seating area. Something along the lines of the paddock bar at Saratoga might be fun. The front apron will remain open and the picnic area towards the top of the stretch will be expanded. So you'll be able to walk through the grandstand building on the ground floor. But I'm told, by a highly reliable source, that the seating on the 2nd and 3rd floors will indeed be closed. (I am assuming that everything will be open for the super duper Belmont day.)
I'm kind of stunned, I must admit. Not that I didn't expect some kind of reduction in the use of the grandstand given its overwhelming size and underwhelming crowds. It is obviously not needed on weekdays with a couple of thousand people on hand. But I didn't expect such an abrupt and total shutdown. The place is not overflowing on most weekends to be sure; but there are certainly enough people to make for what I'd think would be an unpleasant experience, with fans who want to watch races live from seats all jammed into the clubhouse (where most of the seating is well beyond the finish line). How about the Super Saturdays, and Father's Day? Will there be windows added in the backyard to handle bettors displaced from indoors? (Not that I care personally.....I haven't seen a betting window or machine since I started bringing my iPad to the track.)
Chris Kay talks a lot about the guest experience. "We want our guests to have a great experience when they visit any of our three racing venues." I don't know how great of an experience that is going to be for some. And there's no wonder it's glossed over in the press release. Not sure how one would equate a "great experience" with eliminating three-quarters of the inside space and cramming everyone in the clubhouse where you get a crappy view of the races that are supposed to be the main point of being there in the first place.
Kay also said that the initial "online market research" of the proposed admission price increases support them (I'd be curious to see how those questions were worded), and that they will announce pricing for Belmont Stakes day in three weeks. I think NYRA needs to be careful there. Though I've expressed my own indifference towards the extra stakes races that day, I seem to be in the minority. However, attendance for the big day is already in a downward trend since the ban on alcohol was instituted; and exacerbated by the draconian security last year. I think there's a pricing level that could very well mitigate whatever gains that the extra hoopla may bring (of which I remain dubious). Unless perhaps they are planning a serious upgrade from Big Shot on the musical entertainment menu, which they may be, we'll see.
- Post time at the Big A moves to 1:20 starting today.