12/28/2007 12:00AM

NYRA extension mixed blessing, horsemen say

EmailOZONE PARK, N.Y. - Horsemen had mixed reactions to the news that the New York Racing Association is likely to be granted a three-week extension of its franchise, seemingly averting a shutdown of racing come Tuesday.

While naturally happy that racing would continue, horsemen remained frustrated over the fact that a long-term deal has not yet been reached, thus still creating an uncertain future come Jan. 24.

"I'd rather have a long-term deal, but it alleviates the immediate problem, obviously," trainer Linda Rice said Friday. "Quite frankly, I think we're all numb at this point."

"Nobody wants racing to stop," said Gary Contessa, New York's leading trainer in 2007 in terms of wins. "I don't think the politicians [do]; I don't think NYRA, certainly not the trainers, jockeys, and owners. Any Band-Aid is seen as something positive."

"It's a win-lose situation," said trainer Rick Violette, the president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "It takes some of the pressure off, but it just gives them more time to procrastinate."

Violette was speaking from south Florida, where he keeps a string. Violette also has a full complement of horses in New York. He said that a larger number of New York-based horsemen need winter racing to continue to make ends meet.

"A lot of these guys have to make their nut the next few months," Violette said. "They have to make the bulk of their money now, and losing racing days is unacceptable."

NYRA's franchise to run racing at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga is due to expire on Monday. There is no racing that day, so essentially Sunday's card is the last to be run under the current franchise setup. Negotiations between Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno have restarted, but have not produced a resolution.

Spitzer and Silver have supported a 30-year franchise extension for NYRA in exchange for the association giving up claims to the land the three tracks sit on. Bruno supports a smaller-term franchise extension with performance benchmarks as well as a makeover of the NYRA board.

Any shutdown of winter racing would be a hardship to the smaller trainers, who aren't able to compete with the larger outfits come the spring and summer.

"My whole life depends on [winter racing]," said trainer Leah Gyarmati, a single mother of a high-school-age daughter. "This is the time of year I count on to make some money. Belmont and Saratoga, it's so tough I just try to keep my head above water."

Gyarmati, who trains 26 horses and employs more than 20 people, doesn't believe that the politicians understand how many lives would be affected by a shutdown.

"If racing stopped, what would all these people do?" she said.

Hills assistant Brown going on his own

Bruce Brown, who has worked as an assistant to trainer Tim Hills the last seven years, will be going out on his own next week. Brown, 31, will have a nine-horse string comprising mainly New York-breds owned by the Our Sugar Bear Stable of his his father-in-law, Bill Terrill.

"He's got some nice horses and knows a lot of people, too," Brown said Friday. "And Timmy's been a really big help. He's letting me use a lot of his [equipment], so it's not like I'm having to go out and spend a ton of money right off the bat."

Brown said he would have gone out on his own at the start of the inner-track meet in late November, but said he would have been liable for a full year's insurance premium.

Kay Phillips will replace Brown as Hills's New York assistant.

Brown said his first starter will likely come next Saturday with North Ocean Drive, an unraced New York-bred filly.

Ferocious Fires out with ankle injury

Ferocious Fires, who came off an injury to win the Hudson Handicap in October, is sidelined again with a hind ankle injury, trainer Tony Dutrow said. Ferocious Fires is undefeated in six career starts.

"He'll be back in training in about a month," Dutrow said, "and back in the swing of things in March or April. It's nothing big. We just didn't want a little thing to become a big thing."

Ferocious Fires is one of several hard-knocking New York-bred sprinters Dutrow has in his barn. Another is Premium Wine, who is entered in a second-level allowance here Sunday. Premium Wine, a 3-year-old New York-bred son of Prime Timber, has won 4 of 8 starts including the $250,000 Gallant Bob Handicap at Philadelphia Park in September.

Dutrow has also taken over the training of Monster Drive, a New York-bred son of Commendable who had been trained by Bill Mott. Monster Drive worked five furlongs in 59.34 seconds on Friday and is being pointed to an open-company allowance race.

Dime bettor takes down the pool

One New York City Off-Track Betting patron didn't need a dollar to realize his dream. All he needed was a dime.

The unidentified bettor collected the entire net pool of $23,609 when he hit the superfecta in Friday's third race. The winning combination of 2-6-10-4 consisted of Karakorum Roulette ($74.50) over 12-1 shot Ambidaxtrous, 43-1 shot Sounds Tacky, and 5-1 shot Phil Cat.

* Trainer Gary Contessa remained on hold in his quest to set a single-year record for wins on this circuit. Contessa won his 156th race of the year in Wednesday's opener with Honeymooning. Since then, he has gone 0 for 17, but had 17 starters entered between Saturday and Sunday. He went winless with five starters on Friday, with City in the Clouds being caught late by Home and Away in the nightcap.