02/01/2006 12:00AM

New York lobbyists set to exit

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Friends of New York Racing, a horse racing lobbying group, will fold up its operations at the beginning of March after issuing recommendations to reform New York's racing laws, the president of the group, Tim Smith, said Wednesday.

Smith, formerly the president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said that the group's proposed racing legislation is in the final stages of production, and should be released before the end of February. After the proposal is released, the group will cease operations, although Smith may still lobby for the legislation on an "unpaid basis," he said.

Friends of New York Racing was formed late in 2004 in order to produce advocacy materials for the horse racing industry in New York in advance of an effort by the state's legislature to award the franchise to operate the state's three major Thoroughbred tracks. The franchise, currently held by the New York Racing Association, expires Dec. 31, 2007.

The lobbying group has been funded by a variety of national and local horse racing groups, including several companies that are expected to bid on the NYRA franchise. Smith said the "dissolution" of Friends of New York Racing would allow those groups, which include Magna Entertainment Corp. and Churchill Downs Inc., to begin seeking the franchise through their own political strategies.

"Some of our main funding sources naturally want to move on to their own individual bidding efforts," Smith said.

Smith also said that he expected to begin seeking funds and support for a new horse racing advocacy group that would represent the entire New York racing industry, including harness tracks and offtrack betting corporations. The group would, ideally, produce educational materials about racing and represent the industry in the legislature, Smith said.

"There is still going to be a need for that kind of work, but on an industry-wide basis," Smith said.