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Thursday, March 06, 2014

Belmont Bombshell

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 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...
 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.


Artie Schiller said...

Kay is an idiot, pure and simple. It took him 35 years to make it back to a sport, that he claimed he loved. The only reason he really showed up was because they are paying him to, a phoney if ever there was one.
His proposed admission increases are stupid. You don't raise prices when your attendence is declining, Economics 101.
Notice the idiot didn't even mention the sex assault at Aqueduct at the meeting, but he did suggest that the pigeons don't belong there. The man is brilliant, isn't he? He must have considered that the sex assault was just enhancing the guest experience, and nothing to be concerned about.

El Angelo said...

How is the train connection going to work? Don't you have to walk through the grandstand if you take the lirr?

jk said...

The new video board in the paddock will be a nice addition. Finally! indeed. Is it too little too late?

All of the bean counter moves--increased admission & parking, closing top floors--will do nothing to reach the stated goal of increasing attendance.

My crystal ball shows the Big A being shut down and a new slot parlor to fill Belmont's unused space.

jk said...

When you arrive via LIRR, you have to take the escalator or stairs down to the first floor immediately after entering. Access to a large portion of the 2nd floor is already blocked off.

El Angelo said...

Thanks for the clarification. I haven't taken the train there on a non-Belmont day in over 12 years and that wasn't the case then.

Alan's points are spot on. The view from the clubhouse stinks. If they're going to try to attract new fans, the apron is the only spot to see the race that's any good.

I do like the idea of a paddock screen and bar though.

Dan said...

I was shocked to see they will close the 2nd & 3rd floor Grandstand. That is the best area to watch the races. The clubhouse will get tight on weekends & the views are PAST the finish line. What are these fools thinking? I think the fools at NYRA are telling me to keep betting at home. Raise the price to enter & now have a bad view of the races through my binoculars. Not happy about this.

Figless said...

I've been a staunch defender of Kay since his takeover, but closing the grandstand seating is absurd and frankly destroys much of my incentive to attend live.

I love the backyard, but when I go to the "big" races I want to see them live, and the best place to do so is the grandstand seating. Only sport where the best seats are the easiest to obtain, and they are taking that away?

I hope that Grening and your sources have it wrong, that only a portion of the grandstand will be closed.

Logical compromise would be to close the entire third floor and about half of the second floor on weekdays, but the best seats, inside the 1/8th pole, should remain available.

Figless said...

Regarding the expanded picnic area, they have botched this area since day one. Monmouth gets it right, provides at least one staffed mutual bay, NYRA provides about a half dozen machines most of which are certain to be inoperable by the third race (this may have changed with the new system).

Most of the folks that attend the picnic events are newbies, and many are intimidated by the machines. It is very helpful to have a human present. At Belmont, if you want a human to sell you a ticket, you have to walk at least an eighth of a mile from the picnic area.

Figless said...

Footnote to the News article: "Other good news: The death rate at NYRA tracks is now 1.5 per 1,000 starters, the lowest in the country"

Will the Times be reporting this any time soon?

Figless said...

Below comments indicates Genting WAS responsible for cleaning and the food service:

"In response to complaints about the cleanliness of Aqueduct, NYRA has taken back the cleaning operations of its side of the track from Genting, the company that runs the thriving Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct. NYRA also is taking over the food services, having issued a request for proposal for a company to take over that area. Changes in that area likely will not be seen until the fall meet."

Dan said...

I saw on Grenning's Twitter page that NYRA wants to consolidate everyone into one area (Clubhouse). They should keep the 2nd floor grandstand open as a compromise. The views watching the races live from the clubhouse are not good. I don't enjoy watching races PAST the finish line. Very similar to the views at AQU today. Lets hope this is just an experiment & enough people will complain. They will have everything opened on Belmont Stakes day. I wonder how much they will increase these prices. They better watch & not just hire "experts" on how much they can charge. They pay these experts to tell them what they want to hear.