05/10/2007 12:00AM

New York process stuck in low gear

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NEW YORK - Unless you bet on No Decision or took the over on the future of New York racing being resolved by the end of 2007, it might be time to hedge your bets in the New York Racing Association Future Wager.

According to three different people involved in the current bidding, Gov. Eliot Spitzer's initial timetable for picking an operator by the end of May is off the table, and the most likely scenario is a virtual restart of the entire process while NYRA receives a short-term extension for a year or two past the current franchise expiration date of Dec. 31, 2007.

Spitzer hinted at a delay in remarks at a public legislative session Wednesday, when he said that he considered the issue a priority and hoped his new panel would have a consensus on the current bids soon, but that "I don't know if it's going to be in the next four or five or six weeks." So much for his announced Memorial Day weekend deadline for a selection. Traditionally, the legislature adjourns for the year in August, and there's the not-so-small matter ahead of overhauling the state's racing laws, a prerequisite for any of the new bidders to step in.

There's also no guarantee that Spitzer and his panel intend simply to point their finger at one of the current bidding groups and release a puff of white smoke from the dome of the state Capitol. The panel might instead issue its own virtual request for proposals, outlining new criteria and giving the state both greater operational involvement and a higher retention of slots revenue. This could make the proposition less attractive to the venture capitalists who have been salivating over potential racino profits, as could a separate deal to proceed with the construction of such a facility at Aqueduct before the franchise issue is resolved. A reconstituted NYRA or a new state agency might be the likeliest outcomes under such a scenario.

Other possible ramifications of a delay in the process include readdressing the fate and future of the state's six offtrack betting corporations, and a possible realignment of some of the partners in existing bidding groups. Now that Churchill Downs and Magna Entertainment have partnered in TrackNet Media in an attempt to reclaim business from the account-wagering middlemen, those companies might have a greater direct interest in the NYRA franchise than their current combined 13 percent share of the Empire Racing Associates bid.

Fuzzy picture on HBO

It's always nice when popular television shows weave a little horse racing into their storylines, as HBO's "The Sopranos" and "Entourage" did in recent episodes on the Sundays before and after the Kentucky Derby. But do they have to get almost every detail of the game so wrong?

Episode 81 of "The Sopranos," which first aired April 29, depicted Tony Soprano in a downward gambling spiral on an outing to the Borgata in Atlantic City. After heavy football and roulette losses, Tony sees a television monitor in the race book displaying the names of runners in the next race at Batavia Downs, and bets $18,000 to win on a pacer who shares his daughter's name.

Of course, an $18,000 win bet at tiny Batavia would drop any horse's odds to 1-20, which Tony and everyone in his crew would know, but amazingly his steed is 2-1 both before and after he bets. He loses.

Episode 39 of "Entourage," airing May 6, found our rat-pack protagonists spending Yom Kippur at Del Mar, a neat trick since that holiday usually falls weeks after Del Mar closes. Also, they're watching a full field of horses being saddled in the paddock while downing tequila shots at 10:30 a.m., a few hours before post time. Those details, however, pale next to the absurdity of the stock-footage "race" they bet on, in which the field starts on the dirt, then is shown racing on the grass for a while before finally returning to dirt for the inevitable losing finish.

Unbelievably, it gets worse from there, as the character Johnny Drama buys the losing horse for $2,000 to keep him from being "sent to the glue factory," stables him on the front lawn of a mansion, gets fined $5,000 when the horse gets loose and walks to Beverly Hills, and eventually dumps the horse on another actor's front lawn.

Sometimes fiction is both stranger than, and entirely free from, truth.