by Karen Johnson
With another deadline looming that could shut down racing at Aqueduct Feb. 14, rumors are circulating among horsemen that the New York Racing Association might not be willing to accept another temporary extension to keep racing going.
As of Jan. 28, NYRA officials had given no indication on the record if they would agree to another short-term extension to operate the franchise.
“There seems to be rumblings that NYRA may not accept (another extension) at the deadline,” trainer Rick Violette said from Florida Jan. 28. “I don’t think NYRA is blowing smoke. I don’t think it is a bluff.
“There are easily two mindsets here: We all would like to have seen this resolved months ago because it isn’t doing anybody in the industry any good. But if NYRA stopped racing for a few days, or a few weeks, could that bring a resolution? That is where the devil lays.”
Violette is the president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which represents the interests of 6,000 people in the racing industry.
“It’s a very fine line you have to walk,” Violette said. “It’s unacceptable to lose even one day of racing. On the flip side, extension after extension doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s a dire time, no doubt about that.”
Violette said for some New York horsemen, the winter months at Aqueduct are an essential means of income, and the money the trainers and owners earn during the meet keeps them afloat the rest of the racing season.
“Winter racing presents an opportunity for money to be made, and this is a necessity for many who make their nut for the whole year,” he said.
The most recent deal between NYRA and the state--the second extension was brokered Jan. 21--keeps racing alive through Feb. 13. NYRA’s first extension was granted Dec. 31, the day its franchise expired, and secured racing through Jan. 23.
A wrinkle took place after the most recent extension was granted when the state government panel overseeing Thoroughbred racing made a resolution Jan. 22 restricting the power of its new chairman, Steven Newman, who was appointed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer to unilaterally broker deals with NYRA on short-term extensions.
The sides have agreed in principle to allow NYRA to continue running racing at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga. Two of the issues that have caused stumbling blocks between the sides are the length of the franchise, and if another entity should be involved in overseeing the operation of video lottery terminals at Aqueduct.