12/13/2007 12:00AM

Proposed changes to plan irk NYRA chief

EmailOZONE PARK, N.Y. - While happy that the state legislature is finally taking up the issue of the racing franchise, the New York Racing Association's president and CEO, Charles Hayward, was unhappy Thursday with the latest correspondence from the state regarding the franchise that is set to expire on Dec. 31.

In a meeting with NYRA employees at Aqueduct, Hayward said that NYRA has received several proposed amendments to the memorandum of understanding, or MOU, that NYRA and Gov. Eliot Spitzer agreed to on Sept. 4 for a 30-year extension of NYRA's franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga. Hayward declined go into detail about the amendments but appeared to reject many of them out of hand.

"We got a document [Wednesday] night which we don't like," Hayward told employees in a meeting held in Aqueduct's Man o' War room and broadcast on closed-circuit television. "It doesn't resemble the MOU particularly well."

Published reports have indicated that that Joseph Bruno, the Republican Senate majority leader, Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, and Spitzer were on the verge of a handshake deal regarding the franchise. Hayward called the reports "very troubling," and said he would like a more concrete deal in place by Dec. 27. That is the date NYRA is scheduled to appear in bankruptcy court, at which time Hayward is hoping NYRA's reorganization plan would be approved, finally getting the association out of bankruptcy.

"We need a deal with legislation so that we can go into court on the 27th and get out," Hayward said. "What's the likelihood of getting that done by the 27th? Probably pretty low. We have strategies in place with the bankruptcy court so that we can hopefully continue and hopefully have a successful outcome."

When one employee asked if NYRA would take a 90-day extension of the franchise, if offered, Hayward said only if the framework of an agreement was in place. Hayward said if that wasn't the case, then he would not accept an extension.

"As bleak as it would be, if we have to stop racing for a week, I'd much rather stop the first week in January than the week of the Wood Memorial," he said.

Hayward said that he has grown frustrated with Bruno's calls for the resignation of NYRA's board of directors and his threats that a state oversight board would take over racing come Jan. 1 if a franchise deal was not in place.

"As I said from the day I took this job, the oversight board can run racing, they just can't run it at Aqueduct, Belmont, or Saratoga - it's our property," Hayward said. "There is a scenario under which if they really push that and they don't want to work with us, where we would retain our right. The state would be responsible for racing stopping. I think the possibility of that is low, but it really depends on how far they want to push this."

Hayward said that in the event of a shutdown, he would hope that training could continue, although it might have to be consolidated to one track, Belmont. Horses stabled at Aqueduct would have to ship to Belmont to train.

In the event of a shutdown, Hayward said that some employees such as mutuel clerks and maintenance personnel would be laid off.

Hayward said NYRA will lose $27 million in 2007, but under the terms of the memorandum of understanding, NYRA's debt would be greatly reduced. With other initiatives, including sponsorship deals, NYRA could be profitable by the end of 2009, Hayward said, with or without the start-up of video lottery terminals, which have been approved for Aqueduct but not yet installed.