Yankees Partner: Group Keen on New York Racing

Principals in the ownership of and construction of a new stadium for the New York Yankees are similarly committed to strengthening the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry in New York via the Excelsior Group, Yankees partner Steve Swindal said.

Excelsior, based in New York, is one of 15 bidders for the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga. Responses to a request for proposal are due Aug. 29 to the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing in New York.

Swindal, son-in-law of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, told The Blood-Horse Aug. 24 the Steinbrenner family has been committed to horse racing for 30 years as owners, breeders, and operators of racetracks and off-track betting parlors. The family is involved in Balmoral Park and Maywood Park, two Chicago-area harness tracks, with the Johnston family, as well as an OTB network in Illinois.

Steinbrenner owns Kinsman Farm in Ocala, Fla., and Kinsman Stable, which has about 25 racehorses.

"It's a passion for the family," Swindal said. "We want to take that passion and bring it to New York as we've done with the Yankees and build a team with tradition and character."

Excelsior includes Swindal; Richard Fields, whose company developed Seminole Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Florida; Jerry Bilinski, former chairman of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board and an equine veterinarian; New York trainer Gary Contessa; retired Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey; the Tishman Speyer real estate development company involved in the Yankee Stadium project; and the Rev. Dr. Floyd Flake, a former United States representative and senior pastor at a New York church involved with urban development and community outreach programs.

Swindal said that from a racing perspective, Excelsior is dedicated to New York. He noted Steinbrenner is spending $1 billion on the new stadium in the Bronx neighborhood some New York City officials believe is undergoing a renaissance.

"We're willing to invest whatever it takes to protect the number one product--in this case racing--out there," Swindal said. "One of the biggest problems is we need to get more people to the tracks. You go to Aqueduct and Belmont and see empty facilities. Why is that? I don't think racing itself is broken. We just need to get people exposed to it."

Bidders for the franchise currently held by the New York Racing Association aren't permitted to discuss details of their responses to the RFP. But when asked about Excelsior's position on Saratoga, Swindal said: "Our view is it's the grand dame of racing--it shouldn't be touched. If the rest of racing was as successful as Saratoga, we wouldn't have any problems."

Swindal said redevelopment of New York racetracks into entertainment facilities with video lottery terminals would have a trickle-down effect on the industry and the economy. He said Fields' experience with the Seminole Hard Rock Casino complexes in Tampa and Hollywood, Fla., is an asset.

"It's an overall development process that's quite impressive," he said.

Swindal also said Excelsior is committed to backstretch improvements that can eliminate a "huge gap" between what conditions are and should be in barn areas.

Though as many as 15 entities are seeking the three-track franchise, only NYRA, Empire Racing Associates, and now Excelsior have offered limited comments on their vision for New York racing.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported Aug. 24 that New York Republican gubernatorial candidate John Faso has asked the state lobbying commission to investigate Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer's use of a private jet from Fields, who is one of his campaign contributors.

Spitzer's campaign told the AP it paid for use of the jet and met federal standards, while Faso says the reimbursement wasn't sufficient.

Spitzer is the heavy favorite to win the governorship of New York this fall. Though the ad hoc committee is expected to make a recommendation on a franchise-holder this year, it remains to be seen if Republican Gov. George Pataki or his successor will award the franchise.