Robert L. Evans, Churchill Downs president and CEO, said Magna and his company can enhance the racing experience in New York.

Robert L. Evans, Churchill Downs president and CEO, said Magna and his company can enhance the racing experience in New York.

Associated Press

Churchill Downs, Magna Join Forces in Bid for New York Racing Franchise

Edited Churchill Downs release
Churchill Downs Incorporated and Magna Entertainment Corp., the two largest track-operating companies in the U.S., announced Friday that they have entered into an agreement to cooperate in the bidding process for the New York racetrack franchise, which is currently held by the New York Racing Association and will expire Dec. 31, 2007.

In addition, CDI and MEC look to join other New York racing and business entities interested in forming a larger group to bid on the racing franchise that includes Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course. In June, the state of New York initiated a process to formally invite bids for the franchise.

"It certainly helps Magna because it seems very unlikely they would have gotten the franchise by themselves, but I'm not sure what the major benefit is to Churchill," said Bennett Liebman, head of the program on racing and wagering at Albany Law School and a former state racing board commissioner.

CDI and Magna own many of North America's other premier racing venues -- including Churchill Downs, Santa Anita Park, Gulfstream Park, Arlington Park, the Maryland Jockey Club, Fair Grounds Race Course, Calder Race Course, Lone Star Park and Golden Gate Fields. The two companies have already partnered in "Racing World," a London-based satellite television service that delivers North American horse racing content to customers in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

"By working cooperatively, we can improve and enhance customers' entertainment experiences at the three racetracks that make up the New York franchise," said Robert L. Evans, CDI's newly appointed president and chief executive officer. "Our companies have already experienced the benefits of working cooperatively, and our affiliation will maximize the contribution we can make to the future success of New York racing."

"It is not the goal of either MEC or CDI to control New York racing," added MEC Chairman Frank Stronach. "Our intention is to provide our companies' collective expertise to a bid group comprised of prominent New York enterprises and others with the capability and desire to win the franchise and the commitment and resources needed to revitalize New York racing."

Liebman said Magna joining forces with Churchill is a recognition of the fiscal difficulties that has faced the Stronach company in recent years. "It's a recognition by Magna that they had almost no chance going by themselves," he said.

But he said Magna does have significant political connections in New York, thanks in no small part of its hiring of well-placed lobbyists the past several years. "When you have the two largest pari-mutuel companies in North America getting together, that's significant," Liebman said of the possible impact on the bidding process.

Correspondent Tom Precious contributed to this report.