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NYRA prepares for another Saratoga season

New York Racing Association officials were looking forward to this year's Saratoga Race Course season at Monday's press conference in Colonie, but they were also keenly aware that the non-profit organization's hold on the historic thoroughbred track was in jeopardy.

NYRA's contract to operate Saratoga as well as Aqueduct and Belmont in New York City ends on Jan. 1, 2008, and president and CEO Charlie Hayward acknowledged it will likely need outside help to put together a successful bid.

"In order to raise the capital we need, we would have to partner with a for-profit entity " a gaming or tote board company," Hayward said.

NYRA contends that it owns the land that Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont sit on, while the state claims that it holds ownership, which is why it has put forth a request for proposals in advance of NYRA's contract expiration date. Bids for the next contract will be accepted as early as the end of July.

"We don't have a specific strategy in place," said Hayward. "One of the things we're dealing with is a tight time frame."

"We all want to protect and preserve the Saratoga we know and love," added NYRA vice president Bill Nader. "If a for-profit organization runs it, we might lose that."

While that process continues, NYRA is focused on the six-week Saratoga season, that begins July 26. Several changes are in store, some of which won't be noticeable to regular track patrons.

The most significant change is the addition of another full-time barn to NYRA's security barn system " which limits race-day contact with horses to trainers and stable employees " and the ripple effect it creates. Barn 29 will now join barns 27 and 28 as race-day housing for horses, giving NYRA 82 permanent stalls.

"We didn't do those (security barns) as well as we could have last year, and (the media) were quick to point that out and we were quick to remedy that," said Hayward.

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