The New York Racing Association still remains in bankruptcy as it prepares to open the 140th season at Saratoga Race Course Wednesday,
Charles Hayward, NYRA’s president and CEO, said Monday that NYRA’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy was approved in late April. But actually emerging from bankruptcy is taking longer than expected, he said.
Hayward said the state Racing and Wagering Board has granted NYRA its sixth temporary racing extension through Aug. 28, to provide horse racing at the historic race track on Union Avenue.
Speaking at a Saratoga Preview program at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, Hayward said a number of things still need to happen before NYRA can leave bankruptcy and begin a new 25-year franchise agreement with the state that was approved by the state Legislature in February.
He said its is important for NYRA to award a contract for the installation of video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Race Track in Queens as soon as possible. NYRA operates the Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont Park race tracks.
“The state loses more than $1 million per day when the VLTs aren’t operating,” Hayward said to an audience of more than 150 people at the racing museum on Union Avenue across from the flat track.
NYRA hoped to emerge from bankruptcy by the end of June, but starting a new 25-year franchise to operate the three thoroughbred horse racing tracks has been delayed by a number of issues, he said. These include finalizing contracts with the state on the franchise itself, turning ownership of the three track properties over to the state and then leasing back these tracks.
But the situation for NYRA is significantly stronger starting this 36-day racing meet than when it started last year’s meet when officials did not know if it would even be in operation this year.
“The rancor is now out of the process,” Hayward said. He said the state and NYRA are now all working in the same, positive direction.
“It’s just taking longer than expected,” said Morgan Hook, a spokesman for Gov. David A. Paterson.
Hook said the Legislature passed a number of minor amendments to the franchise agreement in the final days of the session that cleaned up language and clarified aspects in the law that are expected to make the transition smoother.
Hook said there is no danger that the agreement will collapse. He said Paterson is “confident” that NYRA can emerge from bankruptcy and begin a new franchise that will allow more efficient and profitable operation of the three horse racing tracks.
Hook said the VLTs at Aqueduct, when they are operational, will provide additional money for education statewide.
Others participating in the Saratoga season preview were Hall of Fame horse trainer Nick Zito and emerging young jockey Alan Garcia of Peru. Zito and Garcia teamed up to bring the horse, Da’Tara, home as winner of this year’s Belmont Stakes.
“There is no better place for racing than Saratoga, period,” Zito said about the Saratoga thoroughbred racing meet that starts Wednesday and runs through Sept. 1.
Zito, who plans to run Da’Tara during the upcoming meet, said the Oklahoma Training Track, across Union Avenue from the main track, is the best training track in the United States.
Zito believes that the new artificial turf tracks being used in some parts of the country are bad for horses.
Hayward said NYRA is carefully studying the artificial track issue with the possibility that one could, sometime in the future, be built at one of its tracks.
“We are looking at it seriously,” Hayward said about the artificial track. “But we need to know more.”