Weekend Interview: Jeffrey Cannizzo

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Jeffrey Cannizzo, who participated in his first meeting as an official member of the New York Racing Association board of directors Thursday in Manhattan, is all in on Thoroughbred racing.

When not handling his many roles as executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. or spending time with his wife Lauren and their young daughter Emilia, Cannizzo is on the ice. As in, ice hockey.

Cannizzo, 37, grew up in racing and he also grew up playing hockey. He continues to play today, as a member of Power Play Contracting in the Molson Hockey League that draws sometimes much younger former junior and college players. Through his 23rd game of the 2015-’16 season, which was two days before the NYRA board meeting, Cannizzo was the league’s leading scorer with 82 points from 38 goals and 44 assists.

Cannizzo admits it’s a big part of his week, but he’s serious about the racing industry and hopes to make a difference as he replaces leading New York owner and breeder Chester Broman as a non-voting member of the NYRA board. This Is Horse Racing’s Tom Law caught up with Cannizzo the day after the NYRA board meeting to talk about his first go-round, priorities, mentors and his time on the ice.

This Is Horse Racing: What were your first thoughts when approached about serving on the NYRA board?
Jeffrey Cannizzo: I am very eager to be a part of the NYRA organization for the betterment of breeding and racing. Being in a position to communicate the needs of all aspects of our sport is a good thing and I am thrilled to be able to do it.

TIHR: How did your first board meeting go and have those thoughts changed any?
JC: I was given the opportunity to present at my first meeting the state of the New York breeding industry. Therefore, it was eventful and quite productive for me. You could say it was my initiation. At the end of the day, New York racing needs to be private in order for business to be accomplished at the board level. It is very difficult to have business related decision-making in a competitive nature when it’s being done in a public forum.

TIHR: What are your priorities in your position on the NYRA board?
JC: I would like to use my new position on the NYRA board to ensure that the concerns of breeders and owners are represented to NYRA both now and during privatization. The needs of the New York breeding program need to be addressed especially in all substantive discussions of state-bred racing, purses and race days.

Also, I hope to play a role in seeing the long-term plans formulated before the state takeover of NYRA are initiated and completed. This would include substantive capital development plans for the facilities at all three tracks, expanding wagering with NYRA Rewards, and pursuing a modernized strategic plan to open off-track betting and restaurant facilities throughout the five boroughs.

Additionally, it’s crucial for NYRA to play a strong role in developing new owners and enhancing the experience of existing owners in New York. Nationally the industry is dependent on the growth of new ownership and New York is in a unique position to lead in this area. I hope to help make that a reality.

TIHR: You gave a pretty detailed and positive presentation Thursday, can you summarize the main points for those that didn’t attend or watch the webcast?
JC: The key takeaways from my state of New York breeding and racing:

  • The New York foal crop is up 33 percent in from 2011 to 2015. The only state in the U.S. with such growth.
  • 31 percent of the dollar amount earned in breeder awards is done so based on racing at Aqueduct.
  • 49 percent of the number or quantity of breeder awards are earned based on racing at Finger Lakes.
  • 48 percent of the restricted races run by NYRA occur at Aqueduct (324 of 680).
  • In 2015 there was $44.5 million dollars distributed in restricted purse money in New York.
  • New York-breds earn 44 percent of the total purse money at Aqueduct, 32 percent at Belmont, 23 percent at Saratoga and 73 percent at Finger Lakes.
  • New York-breds account for 55 percent of all starts at New York racetracks and make up 45 percent of NYRA’s starts and 70 percent of Finger Lakes’.
  • New York-bred yearling sales have gone from $10 million to $29 million or 189 percent from 2010 to 2015.

 

TIHR: Did you get any advice from Chester Broman about the board position? He would obviously be a good mentor, being so well respected in the industry. Who are your other mentors?
JC: Chester and I talk quite frequently every week. He and Mary are such great people. Probably the most generous and gracious people I’ve encountered in my life. He always is insightful and sharp with situational analysis. I am always listening to him. The first part of my career was spent outside of the industry. So much of my professional foundation was formed with my experiences with Lockheed Martin and Microsoft. I was part of a leadership development program with Lockheed for my first five years out of college, so you could say I had many mentors help me when needed most as a young adult. Ironically, I received a call from someone who was a true mentor and CIO of Lockheed Martin in Rockville, Md., the day I was appointed to the NYRA board. He saw the announcement via social media. This was someone I haven’t spoken with in years. It reminded me how great people demonstrate great acts all the time. A true mentor.

TIHR: Let’s talk racing a bit. What’s the best race you’ve ever seen live?
JC: Well, last year watching the Belmont Stakes and American Pharoah wining the Triple Crown will probably be tough to match. We waited 37 years for it. One other race that was most dramatic to watch live, the stretch run between You and Carson Hollow in the 2002 Test Stakes.

TIHR: Favorite horse?
JC: Easy Goer

TIHR: Give me a couple bucket list items, racing and non-racing.
JC: Racing, Dubai World Cup, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Royal Ascot and the Melbourne Cup. Non racing, near term I’d like to go to the 2017 NHL Winter Classic.

TIHR: How bummed were you that the Frozen Springs Classic was canceled this year?
JC: Quite bummed. I played in the original two years ago here in Saratoga. It was the coldest weekend of 2014 … below 0 temperatures. I don’t know how I didn’t get frostbite. This year it was cancelled due to the warm weather we had all February.

TIHR: Besides playing hockey, what are other activities and/or passions that you enjoy?
JC: Spending time with my wife and daughter is important to me. We’ve tried to travel as much as possible with her since she was born. It’s something we enjoy, watching her explore.

Hockey is my one outlet away from work and family. I started skating when I was 3. Back then you learned behind an aluminum folding chair. I’ve played my entire life from junior hockey and high school to today, what we call adult beer leagues. Currently I play in the Molson Hockey League here in the Capitol Region of New York. When I signed up a few years ago they told me my age was the average for the league. Come to find out, I am one of the oldest in the league.

TIHR: Talking to you through the years I know you take the train when you go downstate for NYTB business. How do you pass the time on the trip to New York City for work?
JC: The Amtrak is fantastic travel between Albany and New York. You have WiFi, a seat, power outlets and a cell phone. The four essentials for being productive.

TIHR: What’s the last movie you saw?
JC: I have a 2 1/2-year-old daughter. So my wife and I watch a lot of Peppa Pig.

TIHR: Favorite book?
JC: I have a 2 1/2-year-old daughter.

TIHR: Hilarious, and point taken. If you were granted one wish for racing in 2016 it would be …
JC: The immediate wishes are: sustainability for Finger Lakes racing and privatization for NYRA. Long-term there is a laundry list of obstacles that need to be dealt with in our sport, the one thing I would wish for is a nationally organized strategy to develop future horse-players and take better care of the existing ones. They are the cornerstone to our financial system that makes the entire wheel turn. Without people wagering on our product, the sport will cease to exist as we know it. Purses will suffer, owners will disappear, the marketplace will collapse for breeders and racetracks will close. The attrition is unbearable, for the most part as a collective industry we do minimal to develop new handicappers. As I see it, the key is embracing the horseplayer experience for what it is, gambling. Capture how great it is to play the races and the value it offers from a wagering perspective. Invest in new technology and a better structured distribution model enhancing the experience of betting. Then market that at the highest national level with true forms of media such as television, within targeted audiences, like Wall Street, etc. and specific entertainment venues.