Two New Groups Join New York Franchise Quest

Two New Groups Join New York Franchise Quest
Photo: Associated Press
Gov. Eliot Spitzer: The interest of additional bidders "demonstrates the great appeal and potential of Thoroughbred racing in New York."
Two new groups, including a mystery entity, have joined the process to try to win the state Thoroughbred racetrack franchise now held by the New York Racing Association.

The Spitzer administration in New York on March 7 released the names of six groups – four that previously bid on the franchise and two new companies – that will be part of the next phase of the ongoing battle among some of the industry’s elite players to become the new operator of Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga racetracks.

The two new companies interested in the franchise are Catskill Off-Track Betting Corp., which is considered a long-shot by industry insiders but could merge with one of the other bidding groups, and Thoroughbred Racing NY, whose members were not yet revealed. Sid Davidoff, an influential lobbyist in New York, is involved in representing the group. He was not immediately available for comment.

“The fact that additional companies have come forward demonstrates the great appeal and potential of Thoroughbred racing in New York,’’ Gov. Eliot Spitzer said in a written statement.

The governor recently said he did not feel obligated to follow a non-binding recommendation by a state panel created before he became governor. That panel recently tapped Excelsior Racing Associates as its choice to run racing in the state. The group’s partners include New York Yankees executive Steve Swindal and casino developer Richard Fields.

Also vying is Empire Racing Associates, which placed second behind Excelsior in the recent bidding competition. Empire is a consortium of New York horsemen, Magna Entertainment, Churchill Downs, Delaware North, Woodbine and others. NYRA, which has had numerous run-ins with Spitzer over the years when he was the state attorney general, will also be taking part in the new process. Another company, Capital Play, an Australian firm, originally submitted a bid that was rejected for technical reasons by the state panel. It, too, said it wants Spitzer to consider it as a potential franchise holder.

Spitzer said the recent bidding process will serve as a starting point for a new public process that will feature public presentations by the bidders before a panel composed of officials from the state racing board, the state’s main economic development agency, and his budget advisers. The Legislature, which also has to approve the new franchise holder, will participate in those hearings that are expected to begin within a couple weeks.

The interested groups had until March 6 to notify the state that they want to take part in the next phase of the competition.

“I am eager for the panel to begin its deliberations and make a recommendation,’’ Spitzer said.

The Spitzer administration expects a decision before lawmakers end their 2007 session, which is scheduled for the end of June.

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