The withdrawal by Woodbine comes as Empire officials are in discussions with Australia’s Capital Play, another bidder, about a merger.
“An economically viable horse racing industry in New York is not only important to the state, it is a critical component of the overall health of the industry across North America,” David Willmot, chairman and chief executive officer of Woodbine Entertainment Group, said in a written statement Oct. 19.
“The bidding and decision making process governing the New York Thoroughbred racing franchise has changed dramatically since the commencement of the process. We no longer feel that Woodbine can contribute under current conditions. When initially asked, Woodbine agreed to participate in the bid process out of a genuine interest in the continued excellence of New York racing. It remains Woodbine’s hope that a solution will be achieved that will ensure this outcome,” added Willmot.
A week ago, Empire lost Churchill Downs, Magna Entertainment, and Delaware North Cos. Previously, the New York horsemen's group dropped out.
“We’re coming around the home stretch with merger discussions with Capital Play, and as it turns out we’re going to be taking advantage of Capital Play’s operational expertise,’’ said Robert Bellafiore, a spokesman for Empire Racing.
The group was recently passed over by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who recommended the New York Racing Association keep the franchise to operate Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga for another 30 years. That plan is being opposed by the Republican-led Senate, which this week proposed the creation of a new public authority to choose the various entities to run the racing, gambling, and real estate ventures of the franchise.