03/23/2010 11:00PM

Aqueduct backstretch staying open


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The Aqueduct backstretch area will remain open for stabling through the summer, but it could close for good come Labor Day, New York Racing Association officials said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the viability of the raceday security barn is still being studied by an oversight committee made up of six or seven members of NYRA's board of trustees. There is no timetable for a decision on whether to keep that barn open. Horses must report to the raceday security barn six hours before their races. NYRA officials estimate the cost of maintaining the security barn at $1.2 million annually. Horsemen say security-barn compliance costs them between $1.5 million to $2 million annually.

Earlier this month, NYRA officials floated the idea of closing the Aqueduct barn area at the conclusion of the meet (April 25), saying it would save the company $300,000 a month. There are approximately 400 horses stabled at Aqueduct and those horses presumably would have moved to Belmont or Saratoga.

NYRA president and CEO Charles Hayward said that the situation at Monmouth Park, where that track plans to give away $1 million a day in purse money, was part of the reason to keep Aqueduct's stable area open. Had NYRA closed Aqueduct, it would have then limited stall space at Belmont Park to 30 horses per trainer as opposed to the current limit of 36.

"What you're doing is pushing guys out the door, giving every reason to ship," Hayward said. "When you look at the potential field-size reduction as a result of fewer available horses, the money we would save - $300,000 a month - we would have given up in profit and purses."

Hayward indicated that if the decision is made to close Aqueduct's barn area on Labor Day, it would be closed permanently and would not reopen when Aqueduct opens for racing next October.

"I think if we close the backstretch area, we're going to close it for good," Hayward said. "It doesn't make sense to open it. But we'll look at it."