Final Members Named to Ad Hoc Committee on New York Racing Future

After months of delay, the final members of a panel overseeing the Thoroughbred racetrack franchise process in New York have been named.

Whether the naming of the new members by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, to the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing means the group will choose a successor to the New York Racing Association this year, however, remains increasingly in question.

Silver went to trusted Democrats for his three selections to the nine-member panel, choosing Assembly members Gary Pretlow of Westchester, who heads the Assembly's racing committee, and Audrey Pheffer, whose district includes Aqueduct Ractrack. He also tapped the new mayor of Saratoga Springs, Valerie Keehn, to the board.

The appointments Feb. 7 came months after Silver first began being criticized for not filling out the board, whose other members have already been appointed by Gov. George Pataki and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. The panel, formed last November under state law, recently held two days of hearings in Albany and Manhattan that featured testimony from top racing industry officials.

The NYRA franchise to run Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga racetracks expires at the end of 2007. The franchise renewal process is underway at a time when racing industry executives are pushing for an overhaul of the state's racing laws to repair what they insist is a broken business model for running the three racetracks that has been in effect since 1955.

"The horse racing and pari-mutuel wagering industries are important components of the state's economy," Silver said in a statement. "They are the engine that produces tourism dollars and green spaces in the form of horse farms as well as revenue for state and local governments. It is imperative that the franchise holder, whoever that may be after the existing one expires, is respectful and mindful of the importance this industry has to the state."

The appointments come a few days before the panel is to hold a meeting Feb. 13 in Manhattan, where the group will consider adding more public hearings and devising a timetable for action this spring.