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NYRA raises Belmont Stakes threat

Filly Rags To Riches, ridden jockey John R.

Filly Rags To Riches, ridden jockey John R. Velazquez, wins the 139th running of the Belmont Stakes on June 9, 2007, at Belmont Park in Elmont. Credit: New York Racing Association

Could the 142nd running of the Belmont Stakes on June 5 be the last? Will the final leg of the Triple Crown even happen this year?

New York Racing Association president Charlie Hayward did not answers those questions Monday. But Hayward, whose organization is negotiating for funding with state leaders, certainly raised them.

"NYRA's current cash position will not allow us to make it through the entire Belmont Park race meet," Hayward said in a prepared statement. The Belmont meet ends July 18.

Though Hayward left the fate of the Belmont Stakes uncertain, his words cast an even darker cloud over Saratoga, New York's racing jewel and home to the state's biggest purses. The Saratoga meet runs from July 23 until Sept. 6.

NYRA has warned in past years that its money problems could doom racing, then found a way to stay afloat. Even so, there's little doubt that NYRA, which in addition to the Belmont and Saratoga tracks also runs racing at Aqueduct, is in trouble.

It's owed $17 million by the bankrupt New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation. And a deal that would have put video lottery terminals at Aqueduct with a slice of the profits going to NYRA fell through in March.

According to Hayward, under an operating agreement reached in 2008, the state is obligated to fund NYRA's shortfalls in the absence of having the lottery terminals at Aqueduct throwing off income.

Hayward said NYRA is talking with state officials about ways to get funding. A legislative rescue, however, doesn't appear likely soon.

The State Senate and Assembly recess later Tuesday and won't return to the Capitol until next week. However, some lawmakers' attention probably will be focused on the major party conventions with the Democrats meeting in Rye on May 25-27 and the Republicans in Manhattan on June 1-3.

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said he didn't want NYRA to shut down. "Conversations are continuing. We are reviewing proposals to ensure that NYRA continues operations," said spokesman Dan Weiller.

In the State Senate, the Republican minority has tried twice to include a $17 million loan for NYRA in emergency spending bills needed to keep state government running in the absence of a state budget. The amendments were ruled out of order because the bills cannot be changed.

"With the perfect storm of problems facing New York racing, we need to take immediate action and provide solutions to ensure that the quality of racing is not impaired by a lack of action," said Sen. Roy McDonald (R-Stillwater), whose district includes the Saratoga track.

Gov. David A. Paterson submitted legislation authorizing the loan several weeks ago. His spokesman Morgan Hook said Monday, "We're continuing to have discussions with NYRA on how to address this problem."

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