|By Paul Post|
SARATOGA SPRINGS — New York Racing Association and horsemen today will discuss plans for leaving Aqueduct if a franchise agreement isn’t reached by next Wednesday’s deadline.
Without a new contract, racing would likely stop and NYRA would have to move Aqueduct’s horses to Belmont, which could stay open as a training facility until NYRA runs out of money, a few weeks at best.
After that, horsemen would be left scrambling to find a new home, New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association President Rick Violette said Tuesday.
“I think there’s a line in the sand and I’m hoping the principals involved do the right thing,” he said. “They (NYRA) need a deal done. Extension after extension is not something they could live with.”
NYRA has been conducting Aqueduct’s winter meet with a temporary extension since Dec. 31 when its franchise expired. The extender expires on Feb. 13, one week from today.
“It’s clear that it’s a real date,” Violette said.
He said NYRA advised him about contingency plans late last week. Today, NYRA will meet with the horsemen’s association board and a trainer’s advisory council comprised of 10 horsemen and jockeys, NYRA Presi
dent and CEO Charles Hayward said.
Without an agreement or strong indications of one close at hand, NYRA probably won’t agree to another extender.
“These three-week extensions are no way to run a business,” Hayward said.
State leaders continue to haggle over the size and makeup of NYRA’s board and whether Belmont Park should have gaming in addition to Aqueduct.
“Everybody’s hoping that if there’s a stoppage it would be short-lived,” Violette said. “Any loss of racing days is extremely detrimental. I’m still hopeful that good men will do the right thing.”
Currently, there are about 300 horses at Aqueduct. If racing there stops, both they and workers would be moved to Belmont, an extremely expensive undertaking, Violette said.
“People at Belmont might be getting visitors,” he said.
Belmont is home to about 1,800 horses and two tracks together employ more than 1,000 trainers and backstretch workers. If Belmont eventually closes, owners would have to move horses out of state.
“It would be a logistical nightmare,” Violette said. “There’s no room at Philadelphia Park. We’ve been in contact with Delaware Park.”
Horses could wind up anywhere from Maryland to Florida.
However, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Brunswick, said he doesn’t believe things will come to that.
“That’s just plain nonsense,” he told reporters Tuesday. “Racing’s not going to shut down at all.”
Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Joe Dalton said, “I don’t think that NYRA is going to fall for this ‘we’re making progress.’ They want a deal.
“I don’t think they are bluffing.”