On-the-Muscle Empire Racing Unveils Plan for Spa

Empire Racing Associates, which made a bid for the franchise to operate three New York racetracks, released a plan Nov. 30 to protect the historic charm of Saratoga Race Course and strengthen racing there.

The plan will form a major part of the proposal Empire Racing will take to the state legislature in January, officials said.

Empire Racing board members residing in the Saratoga Springs, N.Y., region said they have created a "dynamic vision" for Saratoga that meets all the requirements listed earlier this year by the Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing.

That group held a press conference in August outlining their plan to protect the historic track but also use it to spur economic development in the Capital region.

"Saratoga is the crown jewel of New York's racing tradition, and it deserves a racing operator that will protect and preserve its unique heritage today and for future generations," Jeff Perlee, Empire Racing chief executive officer and former member of the Capitol-Saratoga Park Commission, said in a release.

"Empire Racing calls Saratoga home, and it is dedicated to working closely with the Saratoga community at every step to protect the elegance of the racecourse while enhancing the fan experience."

The Saratoga plan was the second released by Empire the week of Nov. 26. The group also unveiled a safety plan for New York racing that calls for almost $50 million in expenditures.

Earlier in November, the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing in New York recommended Excelsior Racing Associates should get the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga effective in 2008. The recommendation, however, was non-binding; the ultimate decision rests with the legislature and governor.

Shortly before Empire Racing introduced its plan at a Saratoga Springs press conference Nov. 30, Excelsior issued the following statement: "Earlier this month a distinguished bipartisan panel recommended that Excelsior should run New York's racing franchise. They chose Excelsior over Empire on the merits because our team and our plans were stronger and offered a better deal for horsemen, fans, and taxpayers."

For competitive purposes, the three groups seeking the franchise (the New York Racing Association is the third) refrained from releasing details of the plans they submitted to the ad hoc committee until the recommendation was made.

Empire Racing proposes a three-part approach for Saratoga: community partnership, enhancing fan experience, and strengthening the working environment for horses and horsemen, officials said in the release.

The plan includes regular town hall meetings to keep connected with local concerns, establishing a charitable foundation, developing a viewing area to allow fans to view Thoroughbreds as they train, and a $3-million investment in environmental improvements.

The plan calls for:

--Town hall meetings, the first of which is scheduled for Jan. 10, 2007, at Empire Racing's headquarters in Saratoga Springs.

--Formation of the 15-to-20-person Saratoga Community Advisory Board comprised of local business people, law enforcement officials, non-profit organization leaders, and social welfare organization leaders.

--Creation of the Saratoga Charitable Foundation, a five-person board chaired by Empire Racing's community relations director.

--Marketing of the local tourism industry to attract people from Montreal and other parts of Quebec, the Canadian province that borders upstate New York.

--The freezing of admission prices at Saratoga at their current levels for a minimum of five years and allowing fans to continue to bring coolers into the track.

--Enlarging the family picnic area by using part of the parking lot currently reserved for horse owners.

--Restoring steeplechase racing by including 12 jump races during the Saratoga meet and adding an extra flat race on jump-race days.

--Development of a viewing area for fans at the Oklahoma Training Track.

--Implementation of a "guest rewards program" by which patrons can earn points toward prizes every time they attend the races or place a bet.

--The hiring of "guest ambassadors" to serve the more casual customer.

--An extension of Saratoga training dates by eight weeks to allow out-of-state trainers and their staff to spend more time in the area.

--Addition of European-style turf gallops on the Oklahoma property.

--Investing at least $3 million to ensure the Saratoga facility is compliant with Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations standards.

--Improvements in turf-course maintenance including updated fertility and feeding programs, self-sustaining wells, and an automated irrigation system.