MEC Wants to Be Friend of New York Racing

The president of Magna Entertainment Corp. said Dec. 10 the company would like to be part of a new organization -- Friends of New York Racing -- which hopes to reconstruct the economic model for racing in the state and perhaps seek the franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga.

Jim McAlpine, who addressed participants at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing in Tucson, admitted MEC has been critical of New York racing, but for good reason. In general, his talk reflected a kinder, gentler MEC that is now looking for partners in the racing industry.

"If New York racing fails, it's like cutting off a limb," McAlpine said. "If it fails, horse racing won't achieve it's potential."

MEC is interested in the New York Racing Association franchise, and currently has a strong lobbying presence in Albany, the state capital. Details on Friends of New York Racing are scarce, but the effort is being organized by former National Thoroughbred Racing Association commissioner Tim Smith, who believes New York racing is critical to the success of the Thoroughbred sport in the United States.

Major racing companies, and even NYRA, could be involved in Friends of New York Racing. One aspect of the plan is privatization of the franchise.

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"Tim's next business venture is still in the formative stages," Chip Tuttle, a spokesman for Smith, said Dec. 7. "Clearly, he remains interested in restructuring and reforming pari-mutuel wagering in New York. He'll probably talk about it (publicly) in a couple of weeks when more of the building blocks are in place."

Smith moved from Lexington to New York soon after his Sept. 1 resignation from the NTRA. He since has refrained from commenting on the new venture.

McAlpine spoke highly of Charlie Hayward, who recently was named president of NYRA. But he said MEC has wanted to provoke change because of animosity between NYRA and off-track betting corporations, a weak structure for horse racing, and bad management.

"If we have an opportunity to participate, we would be delighted to be a part of (Friends of New York Racing)," McAlpine said. If not, he said, "let's go to the mat at an auction and my the better man win."

The NYRA franchise expires at the end of 2007. Previously, MEC bid for New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., but the city changed its mind and decided not to sell the entity.