by Tom Precious
A New York horsemen’s group will continue to get additional purse money to fund its operations, including health benefits for backstretch workers at New York Racing Association tracks, under final passage of legislation July 16 by the state Senate.
The measure, approved after midnight, still needs the signature of Gov. David Paterson, and NYRA has raised concerns about the measure.
The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association the past two years was permitted by the state to receive an additional 1% from purses—for a total of 2%–to help fund operations. The original law allowing the extra money came at a time when NYRA was in bankruptcy proceedings, and the horsemen’s group convinced lawmakers it needed the additional funds to help pay lawyers’ fees.
The additional payments are set to expire Aug. 31. The New York THA this year was strongly pushing to extend the law until 2012; one plan called for the additional payments to be made permanent. But the Assembly sponsor, Gary Pretlow, a Democrat who heads the racing committee, insisted on just the one-year extension.
Pretlow also extracted a promise from New York THA executives to use some of the money for backstretch needs. In a June letter to Pretlow, New York THA president Rick Violette Jr. said the non-profit group that assists with various backstretch programs—the Backstretch Employee Service Team –is “virtually bankrupt.’’
The group’s mission includes helping with various health and mental health-care services. Violette guaranteed in the letter to Pretlow that the horsemen’s group will provide $500,000 to BEST.
The additional 1% is worth as much as $1.4 million to the New York THA.
The original 1% from the purses has helped the group pay for things like administration, equine research, and backstretch benevolence. The law also requires the New York THA to use a portion of the funds to help finance the steroids testing program at Cornell University.
New York THA officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But NYRA president Charles Hayward raised concerns about the measure for not putting in statute a specific requirement for how much of the money would go to backstretch programs.
“NYRA is not opposed to extending the extra 1%, but we feel there should be a specific obligation to fund backstretch benevolence,” Hayward said. “The current bill, as proposed, does not obligate the horsemen’s association beyond their own discretion for backstretch benevolence.”
Instead, the legislation specifically leaves it up the New York THA board of directors to determine how much money should be appropriated to backstretch programs.