Group Formed to Pursue Partners for NYRA Franchise

A group formed under the name Empire Racing Associates will try to join up with partners to make a bid on the expiring franchise to run Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga race tracks.

"We would partner with anybody who we feel is legitimate and will treat horse racing as it should be treated,'' said Richard Bomze, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

About a dozen initial investors are forming Empire Racing Associates, which expects to raise $3 million to $5 million to serve as leverage to be able to borrow additional money to participate in the bidding for the franchise now held by the New York Racing Association. The franchise expires December 31, 2007, and state officials are in the beginning stages of a request-for-proposal process for a new franchise holder.

Bomze said the group would hook up with any number of investors, just so long as Empire Racing Associates has a major say in how racing is conducted by the franchise. He said possible partners could include Magna Entertainment and Churchill Downs. Despite often rocky relations between the horsemen's group and NYRA, Bomze said he could see NYRA, or some of its people, also being involved with the new effort.

"We would let them be a part of the business, but we are going to run racing,'' Bomze said. Of a possible alliance with NYRA, he added, "I'm not saying we'd throw everybody out, just the board of directors...The board of directors have seen what's gone on with NYRA the last decade and what have they done about it?''

The new corporation will be headed by Jeff Perlee, the former head of the state Lottery Division, which runs the video lottery terminal programs at the state's racetracks.

Bomze said the group wants to "make a good, legitimate push to try to be involved in the future of horse racing in New York. It means the horsemen...will be involved in the process of the awarding of a franchise, regardless of who we partner with.''

"Personally, I think the horsemen's group is the only group without any axes to grind,'' he added. He said it's premature to say how much of a financial interest the group could have in the future franchise, but said it could be other partners run the VLT and parimutuel side of the business while his new group controls the racing package.

"If it flies, great. If it doesn't fly, at least it will make people step up to the plate,'' Bomze said.