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NYRA says Belmont Stakes is a go - maybe

NYRA officials said Wednesday that while they expect the Belmont Stakes to go forward, it's still possible that financial troubles could sideline the Triple Crown event.

Charles Hayward, president and chief executive of the New York Racing Association, told a hearing in Elmont convened by state Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) that he expects the event to go forward - as long as NYRA receives funds owed by New York's Off-Track Betting.

OTB has filed for bankruptcy and may not make the payments, Hayward said, and that could prevent NYRA from meeting its payroll obligations. Under state law NYRA would then have to shut down.

Asked in a break to clarify his comments, Hayward said, "I think we are going to run the Stakes, there is no question . . . I'm planning on running the Belmont Stakes."

Hayward told the hearing that NYRA, which last turned a profit in 2003, has turned its finances around somewhat. The agency broke even last year, if capital expenditures and nonpayment by New York's OTB are excluded, he said.

Johnson, who convened the NYRA hearing along with state Sen. Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn), said he was "a little troubled by the statements and the hesitancy by NYRA. . . . They need to move a little off the defeatist attitude. They should stop couching [the running of the Stakes] with caveats."

Elmont community leader Pat Nicolosi said that if the Belmont Stakes is canceled "it would be a devastating blow to the community" economically.

But he and Johnson, who are sometime critics of NYRA, nevertheless praised the agency for improving relations with the local community surrounding Belmont. "They have turned things around," Nicolosi said.

One potential boost to NYRA - 4,500 Video Lottery Terminals at Aqueduct Race Track - might yet face political obstacles after Democratic state officials led by Gov. David A. Paterson announced Friday they had selected the Aqueduct Entertainment Group to operate the VLTs there.

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) Wednesday called for public hearings on the selection, which he said "has raised more questions than answers."

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