Smith: 'There's Good Consensus for Change' in New York Racing

Smith: 'There's Good Consensus for Change' in New York Racing
Photo: Skip Dickstein
Listening to Tim Smith speak Monday were, from left to right: Dennis Brida, Jack Knowlton, Richard Bomze, and Charles Hayward.
Continuing on a theme he struck during the Jockey Club Round Table the previous morning, Tim Smith, the president of the Friends of New York Racing, outlined the research group's preliminary findings and recommendations during a public forum Monday at Fasig-Tipton's Humphrey S. Finney sale pavilion in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

"I think there's good consensus for change," Smith told the gathering of about 120 that included owners, breeders, local and state politicians, and racing fans. "Twice a century is not too often."

The change that Friends of New York Racing is seeking from the New York legislature is a new public-private partnership to replace the present business model under which the New York Racing Association currently operates. NYRA's franchise expires at the end of 2006.

Friends of New York Racing has retained the Government Law Center of the Albany Law School to prepare a new racing and wagering statute that Smith said will be introduced in January and that he feels can be passed in the first six months of 2007.

He said a grass roots "hearts and minds campaign," coupled with some paid advertising, will be launched to help educate legislators on the importance of the horse industry and the need for change. The key, he said, will be to have a unified industry. "Harness racing is not the enemy. OTBs are not the enemy. Finger Lakes is not the enemy. NYRA is not the enemy. But that is how Albany has perceived the messages coming in from our industry. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to boost racing and breeding very significantly, and the business of the OTBs."

Smith served as moderate of a panel that featured Richard Bomze, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association; Dennis Brida, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders; Charles Hayward, president of the New York Racing Association; and Jack Knowlton, a co-owner of Funny Cide and a Saratoga Springs resident.

Brida said New York has a good breeding program, one that is working and can be a model for the country, but that the racing program is not working. "The racing laws were done at the last second of the last session when nobody was around," Brida said. "That's the way politics has been done when it comes to New York racing."

Several questions from the audience focused on whether NYRA or the state owns the racetrack properties. Hayward insisted the property belongs to NYRA, in part because it pays millions of dollars in property taxes. Smith said the answer probably lies in compromise during the upcoming political process.

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