08/25/2007 12:00AM

Spitzer backs off NYRA decision deadline


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer hinted Saturday that he may not make his recommendation as to whom should be awarded the franchise to run racing at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga by Sept. 4.

"We're going to try very hard to stick to the Sept. 4 deadline, but I think the thing to keep in mind is that there is a legislative enactment that is required," Spitzer said during a visit to the Saratoga press box on Travers Day. "So, Sept. 4 will not be a moment when I simply say here it is, this is the answer. There's obviously going to be a back and forth, constructive dialogue with the Legislature about what the right structure should be, who the right parties should be. We're looking at all these pieces with the appropriate intensity and scrutiny to figure out what is best for the sport."

The New York Racing Association currently holds the franchise rights to run racing at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga. The franchise expires Dec. 31, 2007. Spitzer indicated simply extending NYRA's franchise for a short period of time beyond the deadline would not be desirable.

"It would indicate an inability to make a decision and consequently failure of the process," Spitzer said. "Having said that, nobody will tolerate an expiration of a franchise such that there is no legal structure to permit the sport to continue. I don't want to say we won't do it - it is a legal possibility - but it is certainly not something I look forward to."

Spitzer said merging the Off-Track Betting Corp. with the racing franchise would not be part of his recommendation.

"There are some who think that we can collapse it all into one structure, perhaps down the road that is something we should examine," he said. "Right now, what we've got to deal with is the imminence of a deadline with respect to the NYRA franchise."

Spitzer also said his recommendation would not include closing Aqueduct, though he indicated that is something that should be looked at in the future.

"As part of this franchise, we're not going to suggest closing it immediately," he said. "If nothing else, Belmont needs to be winterized. That will take some period of time, but I think over the long term, people would be fair to right to ask the question what is the best use of that property?"