NYRA Working on 'Contingency Plan'

NYRA Working on 'Contingency Plan'
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By Karen M. Johnson

The New York Racing Association is working on putting a “contingency plan” in place should Aqueduct be forced to close Feb. 14, NYRA’s president and chief executive Charles Hayward said Feb. 5.

“We don’t have a contingency plan in place yet; we are in the processing of developing it,” Hayward said. “We should be able to share it over the next day or so with our employees. It will probably be in the form of a written commentary, and there will be an employees’ meeting. Possibly this will be done (Feb. 7).”

NYRA’s latest short-term extension to run the franchise at New York tracks expires Feb. 13.

Hayward said he “hasn’t lost hope” that a deal between NYRA and the state can be worked out for a long-term extension before the temporary extension runs out and noted that talks are still ongoing. The Feb. 13 deadline represents the second extension granted to NYRA. The first — brokered on Dec. 31 — expired last month.

Should racing cease, Hayward said training at Belmont Park and Aqueduct could possibly be conducted “for a period of time.” If, however, the situation dragged on, NYRA’s ability to maintain the racing surfaces for training and to keep the barn areas in working order would be hindered because of the expense involved.

Hayward said the $32-million loan from the state’s comptroller’s office, received by NYRA in 2007 after it filed for bankruptcy in 2006, was only intended to aid in keeping racing afloat through 2007. NYRA has submitted a reorganization plan to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, but that plan’s financial details are based on a long-term extension.

On the backstretch, concern is mounting, although it appears that trainers haven’t been making plans yet to ship their horses somewhere else if racing stops. Representatives from the leading horse transportation companies in the area – Ebert, Sallee, and Brookledge – said they have not received any calls from horsemen arranging for transportation.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has a sizeable New York division in residence for the winter, said he is taking a “wait-and-see approach.”

“I’m going to sit back and see what happens,” Pletcher said Feb. 5. “I have options, like Florida, to bring the horses. There is uncertainty, and the situation seems to change frequently. So far I’ve had zero calls (from owners about moving horses). Of course, that could change as the deadline gets closer.”

Trainer Mike Hushion, who is based at Belmont Park and trains for NYRA’s former chief executive officer, Barry Schwartz, said there is much discussion on the backstretch regarding the situation and the implications for horsemen if Feb. 14 arrives and racing is shuttered.

“It’s a live subject because no one knows if it is going to happen,” Hushion said Feb. 5. “It could be very damaging if (racing and training) shut down. The effect would be huge. I don’t think that is getting much attention. Think about the people living in the dormitories on the backstretch, and the surrounding (retail) areas, where these people spend their money.”

A racing stoppage would have a tremendous impact on the entire racing community, as there are a total of 2,300 horses stabled at Belmont and Aqueduct; more than 1,000 men and women living in backstretch dormitories at both tracks; and 1,300 full-time employees working for NYRA.

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