New York Officials to Discuss NYRA Franchise With Bidding Groups

New York officials have called a meeting with the four Thoroughbred franchise bidding groups for June 8 to discuss the future "structure" of the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga.

Word of the meeting came soon after Gov. Eliot Spitzer all but confirmed expectations that the franchise issue will not be resolved before the legislature ends its 2007 session June 21. “We’ll wait and see until after the Travers," Spitzer said following a meeting of legislative leaders to address priorities before lawmakers go home this year.

The Travers Stakes (gr. I) will be held Aug. 25 at Saratoga.

Industry and state officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the meeting will take place in Manhattan and be led by Richard Rifkin, Spitzer’s special counsel who is overseeing the franchise matter for the administration. Spitzer has no immediate plans to attend.

The bidding groups -– the New York Racing Association, Empire Racing Associates, Excelsior Racing Associates and Capital Play –- were not told details of the meeting’s agenda beyond that it will involve the administration’s ideas for the future of the franchise.

The Blood-Horse has reported the Spitzer administration is considering a plan to end racing at Aqueduct, turn part of the facility into a video lottery terminal casino, and possibly sell off some surplus land at the track. Belmont, under the idea Spitzer is considering, would be renovated and winterized, and Saratoga would be left intact.

The plan also envisions a reconstituted NYRA, the franchise holder since 1955, being involved in racing either just at Saratoga or at Saratoga and Belmont, with other entities also having other roles, including running a proposed VLT casino at Belmont as well as at Aqueduct.

Officials briefed on the June 8 meeting said they believe the administration will outline its ideas for the franchise and try to feel out the reaction of the bidders to see who might be interested in going forward with the process. The idea being considered by Spitzer, who has never publicly confirmed or denied the plan, has been met with various opposition, especially by state lawmakers from Queens who are adamant Aqueduct remain open for racing.