NYRA president Charles Hayward, during Thursday's meeting with horsemen.

NYRA president Charles Hayward, during Thursday's meeting with horsemen.

Skip Dickstein

NYRA Offficials Meet With Horsemen

During a meeting with horsemen Thursday at Saratoga Race Course, New York Racing Association president Charles Hayward said that purse accounts are fully funded and plans are being developed to build pre-race detention barns for the 2006 Saratoga season.

Approximately 50 trainers and owners attended the meeting in the At the Rail Pavilion. NYRA officials called the meeting, which they said will be held on a regular basis, to keep horsemen informed and receive feedback.

The first meeting was held at Belmont Park in July after NYRA replaced racing secretary Mike Lakow.

Hayward and senior vice president Bill Nader gave a 15-minute presentation, and Hayward and NYRA co-chairman Steven Dunker answered questions for another 30 minutes.

Early in the meeting, Hayward apologized to horsemen for not consulting with them before the pre-race detention facility was developed at Saratoga. Horsemen were so unhappy with the conditions in the barn and large tent used for the detention center that there was talk of a boycott of the opening day of the season, July 27. NYRA has since made some changes in the facility.

"I know we didn't do an appropriate job of vetting this out with you," Hayward said. "I can assure you that when we come up here next year we're not going to be in temporary stalls on the far turn."
Hayward asked for volunteers to be on a committee to deal with planning for the detention barns. He said two barns are being prepared for the Aqueduct meeting.

"We'd like to have a group of trainers come with us and walk through the whole area. We'll continue that dialogue," he said.
"Our preference up here at Saratoga would be to build two new large barns. I'm not sure where we'd put them and right now I'm not sure frankly how we'd pay for them.

"I can assure you I appreciate you hanging in there with us."
Among the topics Hayward addressed were:

- NYRA and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association have developed a plan to place horsemen's money in a trust account for protection in case NYRA becomes insolvent or goes into bankruptcy.
- A plan to expand the NYRA One telephone wagering account program to operate seven days a week and handle a full simulcast menu.
- A proposal made to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board by NYRA and the Capital Region and Nassau OTBs to offer cash rewards rebates to customers.
- The progress of the video lottery project at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. Hayward said construction is expected to begin in late September and the facility, with 4,500 machines, could be open as early at Labor Day 2006.
- NYRA's intention to create a new director of racing position.
- Overall handle at NYRA is down $180 million through the end of July, the result, in part of a decision to stop doing business with rebate shops. However, Hayward said the association has been able to maintain purse levels and intends to keep the same purse structure at Belmont Park for the fall meet that was in place in the spring.
- Through Wednesday, Saratoga's on-track handle and on-track attendance are down less than 1% compared to last year.

"From a business side, both from turnstile count and in on-track and overall handle we're in pretty good position," Nader said. "When you look at other race meets throughout the year, including Belmont, most have been down. Saratoga is really hanging tough and maybe we have a chance to be even or up a little bit at the end of the year."

Hayward spoke about status of the horsemen's account and the "cushion," revenue for wagering designated for purses.

"Right now the horsemen's bookkeeper account is $22 million and is fully funded," he said. "NYRA has placed that money with the horsemen's bookkeeper.

"It's not always been that way. In late fall of 2003, NYRA management discovered, despite the advice they had gotten earlier, NYRA was commingling their business accounts with the horsemen's fund. That's not what we should be doing."

The cash-strapped association did not have the money to repay the money until it reached a simulcast deal with TVG last summer. NYRA still owes the horsemen $8.8 million in purse money, the Racing and Wagering Board determined late last year. In an agreement reached with the horsemen, the figure has been added to the cushion and NYRA will begin repaying that debt when it receives VLT revenue.

The trust arrangement is designed to protect the horsemen from losing between $40 and $50 million - the total of the horsemen's account and the cushion.

"If anything every happens to NYRA, if there is any insolvency or if we have bankruptcy, heaven forbid," Hayward said, "those funds will be segregated through this trust fund. It's not 100% bankruptcy proof, but we think those funds will be secure. We're hoping to get that trust fund deal done in the next couple of days."

Richard Bomze, president of the NYTHA, said the idea for a trust account was suggested by the horsemen's group. Another option would have been to take out a lien on NYRA property, which has been done recently because NYRA was found to have under-funded its pension account.

Bonze said he was happy with what was presented at the meeting. "It's good news," he said. "I just wish the construction had started sooner. We've waited three or four years. I guess we can wait another few months.

"I love the idea about the NYRA One accounts. That's a long time coming. It's been decades since everyone has woken up about rebates and the way they're going in this game. The state didn't allow it, but now maybe the state will come around and realize that this is what we have to do."

Veteran trainer Richard Violette, long an advocate for the horsemen's group, said the meeting did not produce much new from NYRA.

"They have serious cash-flow problems and really they've been the benefit of a benevolent horsemen population for the last couple of years. Hopefully, things can get worked out."