05/26/2006 12:00AM

N.Y. group has $1.5M


Empire Racing Associates, the New York horsemen's group that intends to bid on the franchise held by the New York Racing Association, has raised $1.5 million from New York owners, breeders, and trainers since being formed in March, the executive director of the group, Jeff Perlee, said Friday.

The amount is halfway toward Empire's goal of raising $3 million to fund a lobbying effort geared toward changing New York's racing laws.

Contributors to the fund-raising effort receive an equity stake in Empire, and Perlee said that contributions have ranged from $25,000 - the minimum amount that can be contributed - to $250,000.

Empire's fund-raising effort is the first major step in an ambitious goal to become the favored bidding entity for the NYRA franchise, which expires at the end of 2007. NYRA operates Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga.

Following the fund-raising effort, Empire intends to begin soliciting partners in the business community who would enable the group to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be necessary to make a bid on the NYRA franchise. Much of the value in the franchise comes from the potential of a slot-machine casino at Aqueduct that has not yet opened.

Perlee said that a number of companies and individuals have contacted Empire about striking a partnership with the group to make the bid. He declined to identify any of the interested parties.

Empire has opened offices in Manhattan and Saratoga, Perlee said, and hired two lobbyists, Brian Meara and Jim Crane, to represent the association in Albany. Over the past several years, Meara has represented the New York Yankees, the team owned by horse owner George Steinbrenner, and Finger Lakes Race Track.

On Thursday, Empire's board met in Albany and elected Jeffrey Tucker, a New York owner and breeder and founding partner of the hedge fund Fairfield Greenwich Group, as chairman, Perlee said.