|By Fred Lebrun|
|Getting the future of thoroughbred racing in New York settled for the next quarter century with the New York Racing Association running things is taking a lot longer than even the most pessimistic of expectations.
But we continue to be assured by those in charge of awarding the coveted franchise that there is progress, that the finish line is in sight and that NYRA’s the one.
Progress is defined as wearing down the NYRA board of trustees’ resistance to change.
Behind the scenes, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno is insisting on a new board structure that has fewer NYRA appointees and more oversight before giving NYRA its franchise back. He’s right, of course. But that’s what is holding up a settlement; a bunch of veteran, blue-blooded NYRA board members who don’t want to give up their seats.
Since NYRA is in bankruptcy, and the oversight judge is waiting for the new franchise arrangement before approving a reorganization, the simple truth is NYRA doesn’t have a lot of options. Neither do those board members.
Rumors are rife that legislation detailing a deal is circulating among legislative committees, and that a public announcement is only a day or two or three away. Not that we haven’t heard that before.
What’s frustrating is that the terms we’re hearing discussed are the same ones, essentially, that we’ve heard about for a month. A smaller board, with fewer NYRA appointees and more representatives from state government, horsemen, breeders, jockeys, even the labor unions. NYRA would maintain a small majority, since it is NYRA’s board after all. Instead of a 30-year agreement, now we’re being told it will be for 25.
Under the current extended deadline negotiated by the state, NYRA and the bankruptcy court, an arrangement must be in place by Feb. 13 for thoroughbred racing in New York to continue without interruption.
Currently, there’s a meet at Aqueduct downstate, which is where any disruption would be felt first. But by no means last. Saratoga Springs without a summer meet is almost unthinkable.
On Friday, frustration over the lack of resolution chased one of Saratoga Springs’ leading citizens from the board of trustees. Charles V. Wait, president of Adirondack Trust, says he voluntarily resigned after 23 years as the local representative because of the foot-dragging over getting an agreement.
Uncharacteristically, he went public with a blast at Bruno, blaming him for the holdup because Joe’s Senate is balking at the agreement reached by the governor’s office and NYRA last September. It’s Joe Bruno who wants to change the rules and create a more open and responsive and accountable NYRA.
Then again, that previous September agreement keeps several more NYRA board members, and maintains more of the status quo.
"I felt I had to sound the alarm," Wait said Monday. "A great deal is in the balance here; racing is a huge economic engine for the region, and vitally important to Saratoga Springs. So I spoke my mind.
"We need leadership, statesmanship and most of all we need an agreement. We just can’t leave so many people hanging like this. My criticism is not personal. I’ve know Joe Bruno for many years, and I greatly admire what he’s done in the past, in elevating himself and for the community."
Still, Charlie Wait took a swipe at Joe, not NYRA. So what are the odds Saratoga Springs will go without thoroughbred racing this summer? Minuscule. John Hendrickson told the Times Union Saturday that he and his wife, Marylou Whitney, have already started to schedule a full social calendar for the summer meet. "No one should alter their Saratoga plans," he said.
Still, better yet than very high odds in favor of uninterrupted racing is a dead-bang sure thing, which is what we’ll finally get when this agreement is reached.