12/31/2007 12:00AM

NYRA official optimistic

EmailAttorneys for the New York Racing Association and representatives of a state oversight board continued to work Sunday on a short-term agreement that would allow the association to operate Aqueduct racetrack until at least Jan. 23, and NYRA officials said they were "highly confident" that the track would remain open in 2008.

John Lee, a spokesman for NYRA, said Sunday that approval of the short-term agreement was being delayed by difficulties in crafting language in the document but declined to give further details. NYRA representatives are meeting with attorneys for the state and the Non Profit Racing Association Oversight Board. On Satruday, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board declined to approve the short-term deal, contending that only the oversight board could give approval.

Lee said that the agreement would not likely be completed until Monday, Dec. 31, the day before NYRA's franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga expires.

"Our lawyers are working diligently with attorneys for the state and the oversight board," Lee said. "It may not get done today, due to holidays schedules and such, but NYRA is doing the best that it can and remains highly confident that we will continue racing on Jan. 1."

There was racing at Aqueduct on Sunday, but the track was not scheduled to run on Monday. On Saturday, NYRA took entries for a nine-race card on Tuesday.

Negotiations on a long-term extension of NYRA's franchise were not expected to begin again before the Dec. 31 expiration date, according to an official involved in the negotiations. The official said that the immediate concern for NYRA and the state was now the short-term extension, which would keep NYRA operating for two weeks after the state legislature returns to session on Jan. 9. Any long-term extension has to be approved by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the Assembly, and the Senate.

The governor and the Assembly have approved a 30-year extension for the NYRA franchise in exchange for a concession by NYRA that the three racetrack properties belong to the state, not the racing association. The plan is opposed by Sen. Joseph Bruno, the Senate majority leader. The NYRA official said that NYRA received a counterproposal on a long-term extension from Bruno representatives on Friday night but that NYRA did not plan to respond to it until after the New Year.