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SARATOGA SPRINGS: More than horses at stake

While state lawmakers ponder who will run New York's racecourses at the start of next year, some preservationists are concerned with how the debate over who owns the tracks will affect the historic oversight of that land.

The current racing franchise owner, New York Racing Association, maintains it owns the land on which the state's three thoroughbred courses are seated. They hold that the fact that they've paid property tax on the sites for the past five decades proves their ownership.

The state maintains that a clause in the states' racing and wagering laws says ownership of the tracks reverts to the state when a franchise expires.

This poses a bit of a conundrum when looking for local support to bring preserving Saratoga Race Course into the discussion for a new racing franchise.

If the property is determined to be privately owned, then the national register would not trigger any review or restrictions, said Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation Carrie Woerner at a recent Saratoga Springs City Council meeting. "If, however, it is determined to be state-owned property, because it is national register property, then the state would be subject to Section 1409 review by the state historic preservation office."

Woerner said the review is advisory in nature only.

"Our role is to get the local municipality's land use laws to be used as the oversight for the racecourse," she said. "One step of that is to ensure that all of that property is in a local historic district."

Woerner asked for help to put historic oversight into the new racing contract in June. In the past month, more than 100 individuals or groups have joined the effort, she said.

Although Woerner made her plea locally, she said she's surprised at the number of downstate and out-of-state racing fans who have responded.

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