08/16/2006 12:00AM

Churchill and Magna join Empire

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Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment, the two largest racetrack operators in the U.S., have joined Empire Racing Associates in its bid to secure the franchise held by the New York Racing Association, the companies announced jointly late on Tuesday night.

The agreement further consolidates the list of the companies that have indicated they would bid on NYRA's franchise, which expires on Dec. 31, 2007. Churchill and Magna announced two weeks ago that they would bid as a partnership for the franchise, and Empire has already struck partnership agreements with Delaware North, the owner of Finger Lakes and other racetracks; Woodbine Entertainment Group, the parimutuel facility and casino operator in Canada; and Scientific Games, the bet-processing company and lottery-equipment supplier.

As part of the agreement, Churchill and Magna will each receive a seat on the board of Empire Racing Associates, which was formed earlier this year by a number of New York business and political leaders. Empire officials had said earlier that its board would consist of 11 individuals, but the release on Tuesday night indicated that the board would be expanded to 15.

Churchill Downs Inc. owns Churchill Downs in Kentucky, Calder Race Course in Florida, Arlington Park outside Chicago, Fair Grounds in New Orleans, and Hoosier Park in Indiana. The company recently reached an agreement to sell Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., in a transaction expected to close in September.

Magna Entertainment owns Santa Anita Park in Southern California, Gulfstream Park in Florida, Golden Gate Fields in northern California, Lone Star Park outside of Dallas, Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course in Maryland,and a handful of other minor tracks. Bidders for the franchise must respond to a request for proposals released by a New York state committee by Aug. 29 to bid on the franchise, which includes the 20-year right to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga, plus a casino at Aqueduct. The committee has said that it will release its recommendations to the governor and legislature by Sept. 29.