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NYRA, employs 1,300, prepares for Feb. 14 shutdown

The New York Racing Association on Wednesday told its employees and horsemen to prepare for a shutdown of racing on Feb. 14, the day after a short-term extension granted by a state agency is scheduled to expire.

In a letter it distributed to employees, trainers, and the media, NYRA's chief executive, Charles Hayward, said that nearly all of NYRA's employees will be laid off if the shutdown occurs, with the exception of "a small number" of maintenance workers, administrative staff, and executives. NYRA employs approximately 1,300 full-time workers.

In addition, NYRA plans to close the backstretches at Aqueduct and Belmont beginning on Feb. 21 unless "a collective decision is reached by horsemen to fund the direct costs of track maintenance and backstretch operation." In addition, all horses and backstretch workers will be required to vacate barns and dormitories on Feb. 27, NYRA said.

Though NYRA officials said that the preparations for a shutdown were being conducted in order to plan properly for the closure of Aqueduct, the measures are also being taken to put pressure on lawmakers involved in the negotiations over a long-term franchise extension for the association. The negotiations have been ongoing for more than two months, and NYRA has blamed the state senate's majority leader, Joseph Bruno, for standing in the way of an agreement.

The agreement under negotiation - which would extend NYRA's franchise for 30 years in exchange for the state taking undisputed title to the tracks - is supported by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Sheldon silver, the speaker of the state assembly. Both are Democrats, while Bruno is a Republican.