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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Head Could Roll Over Belmont Mess

I didn't have a good time at Belmont on Saturday.  But that doesn't have to be all NYRA's fault.  A good part of it was just me.  I have to admit that I went in with a bad attitude to start with.  As I've written before (ad nauseum I'm sure), I'm not at all a fan of the BIG all-day stakes marathon.  As interesting as many of the races were from a sporting standpoint, they're not my preferred races to bet on; so I was rather curmudgeon-y about the whole concept right from the start.  And, like our buddy o_crunk noted on his [restricted] Twitter account: The best part about going to the track is that no one is usually there. While I wouldn't totally agree with that sentiment - technology has helped make it possible to soak in the welcome buzz of a crowded track like Saratoga without having to deal much with the actual crowds - The idea you want to go to a track when there's 100k there? LOL, no.  (And actually, Saratoga is totally pleasant and manageable even if you have to go to the windows, and even on their most crowded days.)

My main problem on Saturday really was the fact that the technology was not available to me. I don't know if it's NYRA's fault that the cellular and wireless networks were overwhelmed to the point where they became useless to me after around 2PM.  But once that happened, my betting day was more or less over.  These days, I bring my iPad, handicap with TimeformUS and wager on NYRA Rewards.  In theory, I don't have to get up from my chair in the backyard all day.  Just like all of the many people who tell me that TimeformUS is really cool but "I'm just used to the Form," well, I'm now just used to doing it my way. But I couldn't on Saturday; and even if I wanted to buy a Form instead - which I didn't/wouldn't/won't - the stands I passed were completely sold out of them by then anyway.  I found myself shelling out $6 for an official track program just so I could tell which horses were which; even though I knew all along that the program would ultimately be worthless once California Chrome went down in flames.

This failure in wireless technology also caused some logistical issues for me.  I was there quite early to help at a TimeformUS booth we had in the clubhouse from 11:30 until 1, where I spent most of the time dealing with people who dropped by to ask where they could buy the Racing Form.  (I directed them to the playground in the far back corner of the backyard.)  (Just kidding.)  The Head Chef was to join me mid-afternoon via the Long Island Railroad.  But when I could no longer consistently send or receive texts or calls, I ended up either at the train depot waiting for her as she waited for a train at Jamaica that she could actually board, or walking back and forth between there and a spot where I could find some cell service.  I spent two races doing that.

Truth is, absent the dearth of connectivity, I could have been sufficiently content.  The backyard was manageable space-wise (if you don't mind cigar-smoking preppy boys), and had I been able to handicap and wager conveniently (mostly on "regular" races from other tracks), you probably wouldn't be reading this post.  Personally, I had no problems getting in or out of the track by car - in fact, the yellow field ($20) had an ingenious new traffic pattern that facilitated a quick exit, and I was home by 7:35 (in time to spend the next four hours being tortured watching the Rangers lose in double overtime.  Man, what a day.)  (I feel a little bad reading about the people who spent two hours trying to get out; but hey man, you gotta put a little thought, effort and, sometimes, money into figuring that out.)  I found a men's room on the second floor of the clubhouse (in some kind of VIP area that I had no problem walking in and out of as I pleased) for which the only line in sight was the women standing inside waiting for a stall.  (Nearby, there was a long line for a women's room, and it was a bit humorous I must say seeing the faces of those who looked longingly at the women walking into the men's room, but they JUST COULDN'T bring themselves to do it and not that I can really blame them.)  Sure, there was no way I was waiting on any of those food lines, but I was able to obtain at least a little sustenance at the vending machines.  M&Ms and Coke can get me through a pretty long period of time.

However, there was no connectivity, so I wasn't content.  Without the online wagering option, and with the betting lines in the back far too long for my taste, wagering involved getting up, fighting one's way through the crowd, and heading to one of the upper floors to try and find shorter lines.  They were there if you looked for them, to be sure.  But after a while, it just wasn't worth the effort.  I've written here on several occasions that the Foolish Pleasure - Ruffian match race was the most oppressively crowded track day I've ever endured.  That is no longer that case.  I made one bet all day.

But look, you get 102,000 in a racetrack, and there are going to be lines, there are going to be tight spots, there are going to be inconveniences.  You can't blame everything on NYRA, right?  I mean, it's just the nature of the Triple Crown beast. 

However.....on the other hand.......

The NYRA Reorganization Board brought in this guy Chris Kay.  He knows nothing about racing, nothing about the Triple Crown.  He knew some things though, and, we've been told, he knew one thing very well.  Hospitality.  The Guest Experience.  That is what he always talks about. 

  “The fact is I hope to bring something different to the table that is needed....I would like to see increased fan support here at the tracks and that requires an enhanced guest experience.....I’ve been blessed spending time with Universal Studios, which I think is fantastic with the fan experience. We are going to try to enhance the guest experience for both the core fan and the casual fan.” [New York Daily News]
  So then, given that this is the man's area of expertise and focus, how about a more unforgiving view:

How could this possibly happen?  They've had months on end to plan this and, though the enhanced stakes schedule was a (losing) bet against a Triple Crown, it was always a possibility.  How can it be that the track seemed distinctly more crowded than the two other days in which there were more than 100,000 "guests," supposedly more than 120,000 in once case?  How could they run out of food and drink?  How could it be that we're reading complaints about pre-paid parking passes not being accepted?  And about reserved seating sections being overrun by people who didn't pay $100+ for the privilege?   Given the way that NYRA encouraged people to pay extra in service charges to buy admission in advance on Ticketmaster, how could it be that at times there were long lines for ticket holders while those paying in cash were able to walk right in?  It seemed to me that there were actually less porto-potties spread around the backyard than last year, a non-Triple Crown event.  Last year, there was a row of a half dozen or so diverse food trucks lining the walkway opposite the paddock; this year, they weren't there, replaced by a basic burgers/dogs/beers stand for which there weren't even any lines, just a mass of people.  Why were the walking vendors only selling cans of putrid Coors Light (for $10)?  Where was the much ballyhooed "entertainment?"   Oh, was that LL Cool J that I barely heard on the PA system?  Where was Bernie Williams (like I really care)?  Oh, you mean, he was only playing in one of the VIP area$ ?  Why did both the Head Chef and I get the distinct feeling that there was actually less of an effort than in past years, before Mr. Hospitality came to town?

People lose their jobs over things like this, man.  Especially if it's due to a failure in an area that he/she has specifically emphasized.  Even if it's not all their fault, it kinda sticks, like when the mayor is blamed because two feet of snow made it impossible to make all the streets passable the next morning.  Could NYRA have done anything to boost the cellular and wireless service?  I don't know.  I don't really know if the train snafu after the races has anything to do with NYRA as opposed to the MTA.  Since the latter had clearly warned of two hour waits, why didn't they have a slew of shuttle buses at the ready to at least get people to Jamaica, where both the LIRR and the subway were options?  However, considering all of the other well-publicized problems that were under NYRA's watch, they will get stuck with the bill for that too.  And this mess has wider implications than just some pissed off people waiting for a train.  The bad publicity over it is not going to go away soon.  We'll surely hear politicians who are delighted to have NYRA as a whipping boy once again.  If there was really any chance of the Breeders' Cup ever coming back to Belmont, you can likely forget about that for now.

Chris Kay had spoken about cutting off admission sales at a certain point, in order to be able to enhance the guest experience.  That probably would have been a good idea.  The problem was that he mentioned it only in passing, and far too late to be able to implement it.  That's just a lack of decisiveness, not a good quality for somebody in charge of running an operation like the New York Racing Association.  I dunno, man....I wouldn't want to be Chris Kay when it comes time for the next NYRA board meeting.  I'd think he's gonna have to answer a lot of questions.  And if I were he, I'd be taking another look at, and thanking my lawyers and lucky stars for, all of those generous severance clauses that are contained in his contract.


Dan said...

Alan, They need to limit the amount of people in the plant to about 80,000. They need to look at what went wrong & try to fix it. Look when Belmont gets over 100K lines will be long for betting, bathrooms & the phones will not work. I heard they brought in temporary cell towers but they that wasn't enough. I'm not sure Chris Kay will lose his job however he should put out a statement soon about how they will fix it. I personally believe your set up to fail when you rely on temporary workers for a day. The ushers couldn't handle people not sitting in their proper seats. That is nuts. I'm actually sorry to hear about the bad stories but with todays new world- we don't want to wait on lines to bet, pee & get food exit the facility. We don't have much patience for things these days.

jk said...

I do not see heads rolling over this. The day was a financial success with record handle. This gives management plenty of cover to say they will do better next time.

Shuttle buses to the F train or Jamaica should be on their to do list.

kyle said...

I'm giving Kay a break on this one. Planning the petting zoo at Saratoga is obviously taking a lot of his time and effort. What color horse(s) to have? Roan? What is that? Should we sell carrots AND apples to the guests to feed the horses? So, go easy. The man has many plates in the air. The Belmont is only one day. I heard he was back on top of things Sunday.

Figless said...

Actually, he (and most of the other top over worked executives) took Sunday off. The worker bees who got home after 11pm due to traffic had to show up, of course.

And no, I wouldn't argue with an 80k cap, or shuttle buses to the trains, and to an auxiliary lot at Citifield, or any other number of improvements, including lack of technology which is the biggest sin in this day and age.

Anonymous said...

143You have to realize that there were 102,000 people in attendance and only a small percentage are complaining.

You have to understand the possibilities and make the proper plans. I purchased my $150 clubhouse seating and $50 parking in anticipation of what could be.

Your so called VIP area was just a ticketed seat area. The second floor clubhouse seat included waitress service, a lounge area with leather chairs and couches, gourmet sandwiches, champagne bar, three piece wedding band and even a $45 buffet was available.

Our AT&T device had problems by midday but our Verizon I-pad worked straight thru, no problems. Yes, we have different carriers since we often attend large scale gatherings and often times one works while the other doesn't.

I certainly was not pleased with the lack of crowd control in the parking lot leading out to Hempstead. The inflated cost of our spot should have allowed for expedited exit off the grounds.

Allowing pedestrians to roam freely through the lot and driving lanes showed little foresight.

The back up leaving the lot was not NYRA's fault. I would assume they have not been playing nice with the local authority(s) and the police gave them a Jersey like George Washington bridge slow down.

You know for a couple hundred dollars Timeform could have invested in a secured wireless network that you could have plugged in right at your booth. Kind of tough to promote a computer based format when you can't get a connection. Certainly poor planning. You could have had some promo to attract new customers or at least gave the appearance that you are a serious company. When I went by Beer was talking to a guy behind the booth that looked like he hadn't shaved in a week or showered in two. I didn't approach as I was concerned I would get hit up for loose change or a cigarette.

Like any other event, proper preparation is needed by facility and attendees. From what I have been reading, on a whole NYRA failed drastically but many attendees lacked foresight also.

SaratogaSpa said...

Crowd control can be done properly-just look at New Years Even in Times Square. Another factor is coming prepared. I know the lot configuration, where to park to get right on the Cross Island after the race, and who to tip going in to get that spot. I had Verizon so had wifi all day, but I know other carriers were kaput. I think I read somewhere where CEO Kay said they would have the place ready to meet increased wifi demand, bet he wants those comments back.

Anonymous said...


I was what appeared to be 3rd or 4th car out of silver lot exiting onto Hemstead at the clubhouse end. Police held us in excess of 15 minutes. Agree, parking price should come with exit benefit. Had Verizon service all day long also but got off the NYRA wifi early on. Unfortunately, had a terrible day at the windows. A lot of good ideas never materialized.

Alan Mann said...

>>You know for a couple hundred dollars Timeform could have invested in a secured wireless network that you could have plugged in right at your booth. Kind of tough to promote a computer based format when you can't get a connection.

Our connection was working fine, dickbrain.

Figless said...

How dare Mike speak with a member of the great unwashed

Anonymous said...

I went to I'll Have Another's Belmont and cell service was lousy. I have ATT, but those with Verizon had no problems. Never again. You'd think they would have learned. Living room downs for me over this fiasco. 5519

Figless said...

Has NYRA bothered to respond to any of this?

Mjc64 said...

As someone who has going to the NYRA tracks since the 70s the recent changes with respect to the average fan seem worse. It seems that anyone who understands what the typical horse racing fan needs is no longer present. I was at the 2004 Belmont and I have no doubt that their were more people there than this year. There was long bathroom lines then too but their was enough food, shorter waits at the window and a much easier departure for all. Raising prices and providing poor service will not grow this sport. The racing card was fantastic but the implementation was awfull and to date NYRA management has remained silent. So much for the better fan experience.