OZONE PARK, N.Y. &ndash; Despite its recent struggles to fill races and the downturn in handle that coincides with short fields, the New York Racing Association is committed to maintaining a winter racing program.&ldquo;Our intention is to have winter racing,&rdquo; Martin Panza, NYRA&rsquo;s senior director of racing operations, said in a recent interview.However, Panza said he would like to see more of a commitment from horsemen in order to maintain the schedule that is currently in place. NYRA has trimmed the number of scheduled racing days during the first quarter of the year from 61 in 2014 to 48 both in 2017 and 2018. Panza said future schedules could be dependent on participation from horsemen. &ldquo;Certainly, we can&rsquo;t be running six&#45;horse fields, that&rsquo;s not going to work,&rdquo; Panza said. &ldquo;If the horsemen can&rsquo;t support the meet, then we&rsquo;re going to have to do something. I don&rsquo;t think we&rsquo;re there yet.&rdquo;&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve been talking with NYRA about putting a more comprehensive plan together for next winter,&rdquo; said Joe Appelbaum, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen&rsquo;s Association. &ldquo;No one&rsquo;s been thrilled with this winter. While I do think we&rsquo;ve had a confluence of extremely rare events that have made it more difficult, everyone wants a more successful meet. To do that, we&rsquo;re going to have to try some new things.&rdquo;This winter got off to a rough start with NYRA having to cancel all but two races from the first seven scheduled programs of 2018. Two power outages at Belmont Park also created hardships for backstretch workers.Starting Jan. 13, however, racing has been uninterrupted, but lately cards have been hard to fill. Thursday&rsquo;s eight&#45;race card had only 44 horses entered.Overall, field size for 19 full cards (and two races from another program) conducted from Jan. 1 thru Sunday, was 7.01 horses per race. Last winter, for 23 full cards run from Jan. 1 thru Feb. 12, field size was 7.50 horses per race.All&#45;sources handle is down $40.4 million, 28 percent, through the first six weeks of this year compared to last. Due to the early January cancellations, there have been 36 fewer races run &ndash;167 compared to 203, a drop of about 18 percent &ndash; during that time. There are many horsemen who believe NYRA wants to kill winter racing. NYRA says that is not the case.&ldquo;We&rsquo;re down significant numbers in revenue, we want to run,&rdquo; Panza said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s how we make money. But it also isn&rsquo;t fair to the fans and the brand and the gamblers if you&rsquo;re just going to put eight [six&#45;horse] fields out there.&rdquo;The horse population in New York typically decreases in the winter with the majority of the bigger outfits sending the bulk of their horses to Florida. This year, horsemen with smaller outfits also have set up stables out of town. Due in part to an influx of turf horses, trainers Danny Gargan and Gary Gullo sent horses to Gulfstream while Ray Handal has a string at Tampa Bay Downs. Gargan and Gullo have started 50 percent fewer horses at Aqueduct this winter than last winter.David Jacobson has sent a string to Southern California this winter, and his 20 starters at the Aqueduct meet are exactly half of what he had run by this time last year.New outfits in New York this year include Robertino Diodoro (21 starters), Mark Casse (17), and Brad Cox (9), but getting others to come has been difficult.Many horsemen point to the high cost of workman&rsquo;s compensation in New York as a hindrance to attract new stables here. Over the last decade, workman&rsquo;s comp costs in New York have tripled. Legislatively, $4.7 million from purse money is directed toward workman&rsquo;s compensation premiums for exercise riders and jockeys. Trainers must pay $1,500 toward those premiums plus purchase workman&rsquo;s comp insurance for their own grooms and hotwalkers.&ldquo;We&rsquo;re getting murdered by workman&rsquo;s compensation,&rdquo; said trainer Tom Morley, who for the last two winters has split his stable between New York and Fair Grounds.NYRA attempted to help horsemen offset the workman&rsquo;s comp costs by putting in place a $300 bonus for runners who finish fourth through last in non&#45;stakes races during the winter meet. But the bonus, which went into effect Dec. 6, was not announced until Nov. 11 after many horsemen had made their winter plans.While NYRA offers nearly $370,000 in daily overnight purses, it is limited in what it can offer in purses in claiming races. In 2012, following a rash of breakdowns at Aqueduct, a rule was put in place that purses can&rsquo;t be more than double the claiming price in a race. Thus, purses for many claiming levels are higher at Parx Racing and Laurel than they are in New York. Panza said NYRA plans to seek a rule change from the state that would give it more flexibility.&ldquo;We&rsquo;re at a major disadvantage at the low end, and at the winter meet that really gets exposed,&rdquo; Panza said.Some horsemen believe NYRA needs to write cheaper races in the winter to accommodate the horse population.&ldquo;We have cheaper, slower horses that need to run against their own kind,&rdquo; said Leah Gyarmati. &ldquo;It&rsquo;d be more competitive, and you&rsquo;ll have much better betting.&rdquo;After racing five days this week, culminating with Monday&rsquo;s Presidents&rsquo; Day program, racing at Aqueduct will be conducted three days a week through April 8.Due to the struggles to fill recent cards, Panza said he is not inclined add days to the schedule in March to make up for the lost days in January. He did say, however, he would consider adding races to existing days if entries warrant.Panza, the New York Thoroughbred Horseman&rsquo;s Association, and the breeders will sit down later this year to discuss a plan moving forward for next winter.&ldquo;The goal is to get field size up, but the goal is also to help our horsemen stay in business and to help owners to have opportunities,&rdquo; Panza said.