CEO and President
Chris Kay is the Chief Executive Officer and President of the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA), the operator of Belmont Park, home of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of racing Triple Crown; Saratoga Race Course, home of the longest and most prestigious racing meet in the country; and Aqueduct Racetrack.
NYRA is one of the largest thoroughbred horse racing organizations in the U.S. and is the cornerstone of New York State’s horse racing industry, which is responsible for more than $2.1 billion in annual economic impact and more than 17,000 jobs.
As CEO and President since 2013, Kay has led NYRA in its efforts to create a stronger financial and business foundation. Prior to his arrival, NYRA had not generated an operating profit for several years. In the first three full fiscal years of Kay’s administration, NYRA not only generated profits, but did so for the first time in consecutive years since 1993 and 1994.
Under Kay’s direction, NYRA has enhanced the quality of racing and the guest experience; improved equine safety, embarked on a multi-year program of capital improvements on the backstretch of all three tracks, built a new Advanced Deposit Wagering Platform and greatly expanded and improved its television package.
Among the achievements of the last three years at NYRA:
• Created a More Robust, Sustainable Business Plan: Secured NYRA’s first operating profit in 13 years (fiscal 2014) through the development and implementation of extensive cost reduction and revenue enhancement programs, and expanded that profit margin in each fiscal year thereafter, the first time the organization has generated three consecutive annual profits in several decades. In addition, NYRA paid off its mid-term notes and is now debt free for the first time in several years.
• Improved the Guest Experience: Focused the organization on improving the guest experience in all areas, including the creation of the first-ever three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, which featured world-class racing, entertainment and hospitality. The 2015 Belmont Stakes was awarded the prestigious Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal’s “Sports Event of the Year,” beating out Super Bowl 50, the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final and other premier international events.
• Generated Record Wagering and Attendance Revenues: Designed and implemented innovative, guest-centric strategies that resulted in record revenues and attendance at Saratoga Race Course in 2015 and 2016, breaking prior records by more than 10 percent.
• Launched a National Online Wagering Platform: Established the industry standard in the use of digital technology with the launch of NYRA’s national online wagering platform, NYRA Bets. Simultaneously, NYRA launched the industry’s first national cable network exclusively devoted to a single racing organization (Belmont/Saratoga Live), with distribution to more than 65 million households.
• Made Racing Safer for Equine Athletes: In 2012, NYRA’s catastrophic injury rate was 2.2 injuries per 1,000 starts, a rate above the national average. By the end of 2015, the CRI rate had been cut in half, to 1.09 injuries per 1,000 starts - well below the national average of 1.62.
• Building New Dormitories for Backstretch Workers at Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course: No other organization in the country creates a better and safer housing and working environment for the men and women of the backstretch community, a traditionally disadvantaged community. In the last 2 1/2 years, NYRA has spent $42.39 million in capital improvements to significantly upgrade the barns, training areas and dormitories in the backstretch areas for the horsemen and their employees at all three tracks.
Kay previously served as Chief Operating Officer for The Trust for Public Land, where he oversaw the operations of the land conservation organization’s headquarters and 37 field offices. In that role, Kay created a new revenue stream, one that responded to the growing need for parks in cities (especially those in need of better storm water management), and helped develop a program that installed fitness equipment in existing urban parks. During that same time, he served as the only non-physician on the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association, where he engaged in a similar effort to fight obesity.
Kay also served as the Managing Director of International Business Development for Universal Parks & Resorts, where he led a team that negotiated comprehensive development, construction, management and licensing agreements with government and business leaders in China and Korea for the creation of multi-billion-dollar, theme park-oriented resort properties like those operated by Universal in Orlando and Hollywood.
Kay was the first General Counsel in the history of Toys 'R' Us, a Fortune 200 international company with $12 billion in annual sales. He subsequently served as its Chief Operating Officer, and led the company’s worldwide operations. During his tenure as COO, the company’s net debt was reduced by more than $1.2 billion, and Kay played a leadership role in the sale of entire company to three private equity firms for a then-record amount of $6.6 billion.
Prior to those executive positions, Kay worked in the private legal sector. He was an equity partner in one of the nation’s largest firms, and subsequently founded his own firm, which became one of the fastest growing law firms in Florida.
Kay serves on the Board of Directors of several thoroughbred racing industry associations. He also serves on the Advisory Board of RSR Partners and has previously served on the Duke University School of Law Board of Visitors.
Kay is a graduate of Duke University School of Law and the University of Missouri.
Senior Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer & General Counsel
Senior Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer & General Counsel Joe Lambert provides leadership and counsel on all legal matters relating to NYRA’s operations, strategies and activities. As part of his duties, he manages business relationships with legislators, the New York State Gaming Commission and other regulators, as well as representatives of the executive branch of the New York State government in addressing issues of interest to NYRA. Also, Lambert plans and manages the activities of the Legal Department in giving legal advice, preparing and reviewing legal documents and representing NYRA in legal proceedings.
Lambert spent 15 years at Deloitte as Global General Counsel, and joined NYRA from Unitedlex Corporation, where he served as Executive Managing Director and General Counsel. With a career spanning more than 25 years, Lambert has extensive multinational experience in complex cross-border transactions, intellectual property, technology, Board and governance matters, regulatory affairs and litigation.
Lambert is the author of the 1990 book, Terrorism and Hostages in International Law, published by Cambridge University Press. He earned a PhD and a LLM (legal masters) from Cambridge University and a law degree from Suffolk University. He is a graduate of Boston College.
Senior Vice President & Chief Experience Officer
As Senior Vice President and Chief Experience Officer (CXO), Lynn LaRocca ensures that NYRA delivers the appropriate experience at every point of contact with its diverse customer base, from present and future on-premise and off-track patrons to online patrons, sponsors, corporate and governmental partners, service providers, employees, media and those involved in the racing product. As part of her duties, LaRocca oversees marketing, event planning and execution, social media, owner relations, media relations and communications, hospitality and group sales, and community relations at NYRA.
LaRocca joined NYRA in 2014 from Modell’s Sporting Goods, the largest privately held sporting goods retailer in the U.S., where she served as Senior Vice President, Marketing. At Modell’s, LaRocca led its successful sponsorships of the 2014 Super Bowl and the 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Previously, she served in management positions at a number of prominent organizations including Bob’s Stores, as Vice President, Marketing; TJX, Co., Inc. as Event Marketing Supervisor; and Paramount Pictures as Executive Director of Publicity/Marketing.
LaRocca, a graduate of Syracuse University, has a long interest in thoroughbred racing. She is a member of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics Connecticut and a member of the Saratoga Race Course Advisory Board.
Senior Vice President & Chief Financial Officer
As Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Gordon Lavalette is responsible for the NYRA’s overall financial plans, policies, programs and practices to ensure it is financially positioned for growth. As a key member of the organization’s Leadership Committee, he provides strategic financial guidance to the CEO and other members of the management team.
Lavalette joined NYRA in July 2016 from ION Media Networks, Inc. where he served as Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer. Prior to ION, he built a significant career in professional sports—serving in a number of senior executive and financial positions with both the New Jersey Devils and the New Jersey Nets.
Lavalette provides the NYRA management team with extensive experience with two major professional teams in perhaps the most competitive sports market in the country. As Executive Vice President, Finance and Administration for the Devils, he provided significant leadership in every aspect of the planning, construction and operation of the $400 million Prudential Center in Newark. As Chief Financial Officer of the Nets, Lavalette oversaw significant improvements to the financial position of the team, and in 2004, coordinated the due diligence process for the sale of the team.
Prior to those roles, Lavalette built a successful career combining financial, legal and administrative responsibilities in a number of companies and industries. At people³, a Gartner, Inc. company, he served as Chief Operating Officer and oversaw the development and implementation of the firm’s strategic plan. Also, Lavalette served as Senior Director of Taxes and Corporate Tax Counsel for Alpharma Inc.; and as Tax Manager for BMW of North America, Inc. He started his career with KPMG.
Lavalette holds a BA in accounting and a law degree from Rutgers University. He earned a Master of Laws (LLM) in Taxation from the New York University School of Law and is a Certified Public Accountant.
Senior Vice President of Racing Operations
As Senior Vice President of Racing Operations, Martin Panza provides strategic leadership and management oversight of all racing functions at NYRA, including program planning and the international development of racing operations. Under Panza’s leadership, NYRA has developed its “big-event” concept, the bundling of major stakes races into major days like the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, Travers Day, Whitney Day and the Stars & Stripes Festival.
Panza joined NYRA in 2014 from Betfair Hollywood Park in Inglewood, CA, where he served as Vice President of Racing and Racing Secretary and was responsible for all aspects of the daily racing operations. Previously, he was Hollywood Park’s Director of Racing and Racing Secretary.
Panza served two terms on the American Graded Stakes Committee, and is currently a member of the Breeders Cup Selection Committee, the Dubai World Cup Selection Committee, and the Jockey Club’s North American Ratings Committee. Panza has also served in a variety of racing positions at tracks and organizations including Nad Al Sheba Race Course in Dubai, Santa Anita Park, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, and Woodland Race Course in Kansas City, KS.
Panza created the American Oaks, a prestigious turf race for 3-year-old fillies that earned a Grade-I ranking in its initial year of eligibility. In doing so, he produced a sponsor, American Airlines, and built the reputation of the race by recruiting horses from Europe, Asia and Australia. Panza also created the first guaranteed wager in the United States, a guaranteed Pick 6 for $1 million, in 1998.
Panza is a graduate of the Race Track Industry Program at the University of Arizona.
Vice President, Controller
As Vice President, Controller, Jelena Alonso is responsible for the effective and efficient monthly, quarterly and annual accounting closings, financial reporting and successful completion of annual audits for NYRA’s three racetracks, Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct Racetrack.
As part of her duties, Alonso advises NYRA’s senior management to ensure NYRA’s compliance with local, state, and federal regulatory reporting requirements. And she directs a budgeting process that engages managers in analyzing operating results and supporting business strategies; and designs financial reporting and analytics around 23 different unions involved at NYRA.
Alonso joined NYRA in 2009 as Assistant Controller; and in her position, organized a monthly close process by creating a clearly defined time frame and assigning deliverables to accounting team members. Also, she designed and implemented a new Chart of Accounts to improve NYRA’s financial reporting process.
Prior to joining NYRA, Alonso served in a number of senior-level financial positions that included Vice President of Finance/Controller of Snap-on-Smile, a privately held, start-up entrepreneurial dental device manufacturer. Also, she was Senior Manager, Corporate Accounting at Arrow Electronics, a publicly traded, International Fortune 200 Company, where she introduced CPI techniques that substantially improved the corporate close process and workflow. Alonso began her career at Coopers & Lybrand, where she planned and administered audit engagements for public and private industries with a multi-industry client bases.
Alonso earned a B.S. from C.W. Post College, graduating Magna Cum Laude. In 2016, she was honored as “Executive of the Year” by the Long Island Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Alonso serves as Co-Treasurer of the Board of Directors for the Backstretch Employee Service Team (B.E.S.T.) and as Treasurer of the Board of Directors of Opera New York. An acclaimed singer, Alonso has frequently performed The Star-Spangled Banner and Oh Canada at home games of the New York Islanders.
Vice President, Chief Information Officer
As Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO), Robert Hughes is responsible for developing and implementing NYRA’s Information Technology strategy, as well as working with the Executive Team to prioritize and oversee the implementation of technology in meeting the organization’s immediate needs and long-term strategic vision.
Hughes joined NYRA in 2016 from The Synchrony Group, an Atlanta-based management consulting firm focused on Mergers & Acquisitions, which he founded and served as its Managing Director. Hughes’ extensive experience there and as the technology executive in charge of IT at leading and nationally recognized companies that include McLarens, RSM McGladrey and Ceridian Corporation positions him as one of the industry’s foremost experts in leading and transforming large-scale IT enterprises.
As the Global CIO at McLarens, Hughes spearheaded the insurance claims service provider’s transition from a franchise-based model into a unified global organization—and completely revamped the technology utilized in more than 40 countries.
As CIO of RSM McGladrey Employer Services, a subsidiary of the fifth largest accounting, tax and business consulting firm in the U.S., he partnered with a new Executive Team to help lead a business turnaround based primarily on technology innovation. During his time at Ceridian, Hughes conceived a technology strategy turned around their entire operations and redesigned their technology strategy completely returning a significant annual cost savings each year since 2002.
Hughes earned an M.A. in Music Composition & Arrangement and a B.A. in Music Theory & Composition, both from Montclair State University. He also studied at Wagner College.
Vice President of Facilities & Racing Surfaces
As Vice President of Facilities & Racing Surfaces, Glen Kozak oversees NYRA’s $50 million operating budget that includes the maintenance of Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct Racetrack (front side & backside), including all 14 racing surfaces and fleet equipment. Also, he is responsible for directing NYRA’s capital investment projects geared to developing long-term investment strategies that improve its operational efficiency and safety measures.
Kozak joined NYRA in 2008 as the Director of Racing Surfaces and assumed his current role in 2011. During his tenure, NYRA has enhanced and upgraded nearly every aspect of its facility and racing surface operations such that today, its racing surfaces are considered among the best in the industry. In 2012, New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety determined maintenance of the NYRA racing surfaces to be “state-of-the-art.”
Kozak joined NYRA from the Maryland Jockey Club, where as Vice President of Facilities & Racing Surfaces, he was responsible for the maintenance and planning of facility operations and fleet and racing surfaces at Laurel Park, Pimlico Racecourse and Bowie Training Center. At Laurel Park, Kozak was part of a group that took part in a $30 million project that rebuilt the turf and dirt tracks. At Pimlico, home of the Preakness States, he was involved in construction of the track’s turf-side dining pavilion, Corporate Village, Top of the Stretch and Clubhouse Turn Suites. Previously, Kozak served as the Track Superintendent at Suffolk Downs in Boston.
Kozak is a member of the Jockey Club’s Grayson Welfare and Safety Committee for Racing Surfaces and serves on the Board of Directors of the Racing Surfaces Laboratory. The son of a veterinarian, he grew up on a 200-acre family-owned hunter and breeding farm in Milford, NJ.
Vice President, Chief Revenue Officer
As Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer, David O’Rourke is responsible for NYRA’s business development opportunities across a range of disciplines from industry relations and ad simulcast markets & pricing to Television, ADW operations, capital projects and simulcast contract negotiations.
As a consultant with Zolfo Cooper in 2007, O’Rourke was instrumental in helping develop NYRA’s Chapter 11 Plan of Reorganization and financial projections. Joining NYRA in 2008 as Director of Financial Planning, he oversaw cash management, expense reduction opportunities and operational efficiency improvements; and worked within cross-functional project teams on the implementation of new back-office system. O’Rourke assumed his current duties in 2011.
Prior to joining NYRA, O’Rourke was member of the Zolfo Cooper and Capstone Advisory Group Corporate Restructuring Practices, specializing in multiple operational and financial reorganization efforts in the real estate development, gaming, auto manufacturing, retailing and shipping industries. He also served as Vice President of Operations at Datek Online and was instrumental in helping the company develop into the world’s fourth largest online brokerage.
O’Rourke earned an MBA from Tulane University and is a graduate of Richard Stockton College. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Backstretch Employee Services Team or BEST, which provides medical and social services to the backstretch workforce at NYRA tracks.
Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer
Chief Human Resources Officer Jim Ranton is responsible for providing the overall leadership, management and strategic direction for NYRA’s Human Capital Function. In doing so, he leads NYRA’s efforts in recruiting and talent management; compensation; employee relations and union relations with 24 unions; as well as the overall development, retention and succession management of its human assets.
Ranton joined NYRA in 2015, building on a successful career improving sales and profit performance for both emerging and established companies in diverse industries. At Surescripts, where he served as Senior Vice President & Chief People Officer, Ranton helped integrate two merged early stage companies to drive rapid growth of the largest electronic prescription network in healthcare information technology.
Previously, Ranton served in senior positions at Guardian Life Insurance Company as Senior Vice President Human Resources, and at Citigroup, Citizens Utilities, Carrier Corporation and Pepsico, Inc. He earned an M.S. degree from the Krannert Graduate School of Management at Purdue University; an MBA from the International Management Center at ESC Rouen (France); and a B.S. from Cornell University.
Vice President, Chief Security Officer
Vice President and Chief Security Officer Robert J. “Bobby” Sica is responsible for commanding, directing and coordinating NYRA’s uniformed and investigative security force in all activities related to the protection, conservation, and security of company assets, employees, guests and others. Also, he oversees cybercrime prevention as well as security planning, coordination and execution for special events at NYRA facilities and properties.
Sica joined NYRA in March 2016 from the U.S. Secret Service, where he served for 31 years, most recently as Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office. Previously, he served as a Deputy Assistant Director in the Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information in Washington, D.C. and held a number of senior and executive positions in the Secret Service, including Acting Special Agent in Charge and Deputy Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office.
Sica also held a senior interagency position at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security where he helped to create, develop and integrate national preparedness and response policies and practices related to critical infrastructure protection, counter terrorism and crisis management. And he served on the Presidential detail of two U.S. Presidents, President George H.W. Bush and President William J. Clinton.
As a noted expert in security operational planning, Sica served in the Fall of 2014 as the chief law enforcement officer for two of the largest National Special Security Events in the history of the U.S. Secret Service—the visit of Pope Francis of The Holy See to New York City and the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly.
Sica has a lifelong love and deep knowledge of thoroughbred racing. A native of Floral Park, N.Y., he worked during high school and college as a groom and hotwalker for several trainers at Belmont Park. He is a graduate of St. John’s University.
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