The folks at Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN) and Magna Entertainment Corp. (MECA) had to be salivating last week as Billy Nader, senior vice president of the New York Racing Association struggled to get Charley Hayward’s foot out of his mouth.
Hayward is still going through his on-the-job training as president of NYRA, a job he took after the sale of the Daily Racing Form where he also was president.
Apparently, without realizing the impact his comments to the Saratogian newspaper would make, Hayward casually remarked that Aqueduct Racetrack, in the process of being turned into a slot machine racino, could be shut down and turned exclusively into a gambling facility while the live racing dates would be run at Belmont.
He was quoted as saying, "Put a luxury hotel there. Let somebody build and develop that. You don’t need two tracks (Aqueduct and Belmont)."
The comments didn’t sit well with politicians who noted that by law live racing was required at a facility that had slot machines.
Enter Nader, who has risen in the NYRA hierarchy since moving to New York from New Hampshire where he was publicity director at Rockingham Park.
Focusing on Hayward’s remarks, Nader said, "He was just speaking hypothetically." He called it "coffee room talk."
However, the timing is a difficult one since Hayward announced recently that NYRA would be broke before the end of the year. Also, some political heavyweights have suggested that the NYRA franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga be withdrawn and given to another group.
Both Churchill and Magna have expressed strong interest in taken over the franchise.