Fears about the future of thoroughbred breeding and racing in New York state were aired at a county committee meeting Thursday.
“Right now, we’re about as far down in the barrel as we can go,” said Jack Knowlton, a co-owner of the Saratoga-bred Funny Cide, which won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2003.
Breeders and owners were among those who spoke to the county board’s Racing Committee as it considered urging that the state rapidly pump new money into the struggling horse industry.
“It’s very important that we continue to have viable racing in the state of New York,” said committee Chairman Matthew Veitch, R-Saratoga Springs. “Especially here in Saratoga, it’s part of our identity, who we are.”
The committee, meeting in Ballston Spa, passed a resolution urging that the state quickly decide who will run video lottery terminals at the Aqueduct track in Queens — or, failing that, pay the New York Racing Association as though it was receiving revenue from VLTs.
The state’s 25-year franchise deal with NYRA — which includes NYRA’s operation of Saratoga Race Course — calls for NYRA to receive VLT money to invest in capital improvements and bigger racing purses.
But Gov. David Paterson in March canceled a deal for Aqueduct Entertainment Group to run the VLTs after that deal came under criticism and a federal investigation was started.
The state has yet to seek a new round of bids, though BloodHorse.com on Thursday quoted state sources as saying a new agreement on how to select an operator was close.
The industry is already in trouble because of lack of action in Albany, horsemen and concerned citizens told the committee.
“It’s hard for me and others I know to make investments until this is straightened out,” said Bob Barney, an owner-breeder and member of a group called Concerned Citizens of Saratoga.
Anything that threatens the quality of horse racing in Saratoga Springs — a city that relies heavily on tourism in the summer — is a concern, said Rod Sutton, one of the Concerned Citizens’ leaders.
“People come to Saratoga and spend a lot of money. It has a huge impact,” Sutton said.
The annual meet at Saratoga — which will run for 40 days this summer — is NYRA’s most successful meet, but overall NYRA is struggling financially.
“This year’s meet is going to happen. What we have to be concerned with is what’s going to happen down the road,” said Jeff Cannizzo, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders, based in Saratoga Springs.
Jack Wolferseder of Malta, an owner-trainer-breeder, said this is breeding season for next winter’s foals and his phone isn’t ringing the way it has in the past.
“I’m down to three horses now, and I used to have a lot more,” he said.
Uncertainty also harms the interests of the 3,000 Saratoga Race Course backstretch workers, many of whom use their wages to support families in Mexico, Guatamala and other countries, said Julie Cobello, community liaison with the Backstretch Employee Service Team.