SARATOGA SPRINGS: NYRA announces upcoming season

Hayward also announced $1.2 million in track improvements to the Saratoga Race Course that NYRA was able to make using money it received in a loan from the state.

"We've been able to do more funding " through our bankruptcy, ironically " to do more capital improvements," said Hayward.

Wheeler outlined some of the work done on the track facility. He said the striped, snow-side roof was encapsulated for preservation, the clubhouse floor was renovated, and three out of five 19th-century barns were plumbed and restored.

"I challenge you to se if you can tell which of those barns are the originals and which we restored," he said.

Wheeler, in his first full season since joining NYRA late last summer, said most of the work was done by in-house and local crews.

"I'm privileged and honored to be in charge of maintaining this majestic and historic venue," he said.

Of course, talk quickly moved to more long-term concerns for NYRA. Hayward preempted the franchise questions by telling the 100 or so assembled media and racing aficionados, "Let me just say this first: There's been no resolution of the franchise. In fact, you know about as much as I know."

Empire Racing, Excelsior Racing Associates, Capital Play and NYRA have all bid for the new franchise. Gov. Eliot Spitzer is reviewing the bids, and could decide soon who will operate the tracks, or if the contract should be separated into different parts.

When asked about the governor's reported inclination to split the franchise into a thoroughbred racing operator and a gaming operator, Hayward said he would if the money was right. "We would be in support of it, providing we get the right splits for purses," he said. "The issues really come to what the economics are in terms of what the VLT operator gets and what racing can expect."

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