Key participants withdraw from major bidder for New York racing franchise.

Key participants withdraw from major bidder for New York racing franchise.

Excelsior Loses Steinbrenner Family Backing

Excelsior Racing Associates lost some of its major backing April 1, with the announcement that the Steinbrenner family and a major New York City development firm will no longer be involved in the effort to obtain New York's lucrative Thoroughbred racing franchise.

Word of the withdrawal came days after it was announced that Steve Swindal, a New York Yankees executive, was getting a divorce from Jennifer Steinbrenner, the daughter of Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner.

“The Steinbrenner family and all of their related entities have withdrawn from the Excelsior bid,’’ said Howard Rubenstein, a Steinbrenner family spokesman. “The reason is to pursue other opportunities. We wish them good luck.’’

Rubenstein said Tishman-Speyer Properties, which held a 5% stake in Excelsior, was also dropping out.

Excelsior was recommended last year by a state screening panel to win the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks. But the new governor, Eliot Spitzer, said he does not feel bound by that recommendation, and has begun a new screening process.

Excelsior officials on April 1 said the team is "moving forward'' with plans to try to win the franchise without the involvement of the Steinbrenner family or Tishman-Speyer.

"We continue to believe that our plan provides the best option for New York taxpayers and racing fans alike. Further details about our plan will be announced later this week. Right now we are focused on submitting our final bid for the panel's review,'' said Katie Burke, an Excelsior spokeswoman.

Swindal, the Steinbrenner family and the members of the Chicago-area racing Johnson family, held a 47.5% share in Excelsior. The other major shareholder is casino developer Richard Fields.

After word surfaced last week of Swindal’s divorce from Steinbrenner’s daughter, speculation spread that the Excelsior team would also be breaking apart. Media reports said Swindal was also no longer in line to take over the running of the Yankees.

A spokeswoman for Swindal last week said the Tampa-area baseball executive will be staying with Excelsior. There was no immediate comment on April 1 from Swindal or Fields about the future of the Excelsior bid.

The decision by the Steinbrenner family, which has a reputation in the Thoroughbred community through its Florida stable operation, has left the entire franchise process in doubt. It comes just two weeks before public hearings are set to begin on the groups interested in the franchise.

Also vying are Empire Racing Associates, a group that includes Magna Entertainment and Churchill Downs; Australia’s Capital Play, and the New York Racing Association, the current franchise holder. The franchise expires on December 31.