The focus remains on Saturday's million dollar Travers Stakes, but this weekend means we're also nearing the end of New York Racing Association President and CEO Christopher Kay's first Saratoga meet. YNN's Matt Hunter caught up with the new boss of NYRA Thursday morning and joined us trackside now with more on their conversation.
SARATOGA RACE COURSE -- Christopher Kay was a matter of weeks into his new role as NYRA's top boss when the Saratoga season kicked off. On Saturday, the meet reaches its pinnacle with the 144th running of the Travers Stakes.
"Our expectations are for a huge crowd and for a great race," Kay said.
With a trio of the top three-year-olds in the country and six of their foes entered, Kay has reason to be optimistic, but through the meet's first half, attendance was down more than two percent. Kay points to other metrics like money spent on concessions, apparel and wagering as reasons not to be disappointed.
Kay said, "Those numbers are up compared to last year. So I think when you look at it from the total context, we're having a very successful meet."
One question Kay and his team will have to address is a growing belief that NYRA is offering too many races in order to boost its handle and as a result, the quality of Saratoga's fields has declined.
"We're certainly going to address it," Kay said. "I haven't created an opinion yet because I want to learn more about it. I want to look at all the data."
The number of races at Saratoga has nearly doubled since the days of the 24 day meet with nine race cards. While his mind is not made up, Kay says there's reason to believe the Spa's customers haven't grown tired of the longer days.
Kay said, "Last year, the Saratoga meet was responsible for 35 percent of the national handle and this year, our numbers are up compared to last year, so I think there are a lot of people that are believing we have quality racing here and they're showing it by the way they spend their money."
Kay says his top priority remains enhancing the fan experience. Some of his ideas include seminars on wagering, building an area where children can get "up close and personal" with the horses and creating more opportunities for fans to interact with trainers and jockeys.
One of those opportunities is scheduled for Friday morning in the winner's circle, when the three winningest jockeys in Saratoga's history will be honored. The event featuring John Velazquez, Jerry Bailey and Angel Cordero is set to begin at 11:30 and will be emceed by track announcer Tom Durkin.