10/18/2007 11:00PM

Woodbine Enternainment cuts ties with Empire Racing

EmailWoodbine Entertainment Group, the operator of Woodbine Racecourse and an adjacent casino outside of Toronto, has withdrawn from Empire Racing Associates, one of the four partnerships that has expressed an interest in running the franchise held by the New York Racing Association, Woodbine announced on Friday.

In a release, Woodbine said that it was "terminating its consulting contract" with Empire, effective immediately. In addition to the contract, Woodbine had also purchased a small equity stake in Empire when the company joined the partnership in July, 2006.

Woodbine is the fourth major partner in Empire to withdraw from the group within the past two weeks. Earlier, Churchill Downs Inc., Magna Entertainment Corp., and Delaware North Gaming and Entertainment also dropped out of the company. Also, this summer, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association withdrew from the partnership.

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the state's assembly have endorsed a plan that would give NYRA a 30-year extension on its franchise in exchange for the state taking title to the tracks. This week, the state Senate's Republican majority leader, Joseph Bruno, said he supported the creation of a new state agency that would take bids on the operation of the three tracks and a casino at Aqueduct. Any deal to award the franchise has to be approved by the governor, Assembly, and Senate.

In 2006, Empire was ranked second among the four bidding companies by a panel set up under former Gov. George Pataki. But the likelihood of the group playing a role in the franchise has steadily diminished under Spitzer.

"The bidding and decision-making process governing the New York Thoroughbred racing franchise has changed dramatically since the commencement of the process," Woodbine's chief executive officer, David Willmot, said in a release. "We no longer feel that Woodbine can contribute under the current conditions."