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Stalemate At Vernon Downs

Published: May 30, 2020 9:30 am ET

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In a troubling turn of events, negotiations over a revision to the existing contract between Vernon Downs management and the Harness Horse Association of Central New York (HHACNY) have reached an impasse, leaving the scheduled June 10 opening in jeopardy.

The track issued the following statement regarding the impasse on Saturday, May 30.

Despite considerable losses incurred each year from continuing to operate a race meet at Vernon, track owner Jeff Gural was prepared to start the live meet well in advance of opening the Vernon casino and personally fund any shortfall to get them started racing.

Along with getting the local horsemen racing after what for some has been six months without a purse cheque, having Vernon open would also help the New York Sire Stakes (NYSS), currently facing an issue with New York tracks getting open, get their program started by providing a place to race.

Remarkably, HHACNY attorney Joe Faraldo has chosen put those things aside and leverage the near future of the Vernon horsemen by holding the line at the percentage of the purse account used for stakes.

There are only two stakes left at Vernon other than the NYSS. The Empire Breeders Classic for state-bred three-year-old trotters that gets a large percentage of its added money from the NY Agricultural Fund and those farms that stand stallions in the Empire State.

The other is the Dr. Harry M. Zweig Memorial, a Central New York classic held over from the Syracuse State Fair years, which showcases the top three-year-old trotters, often including the winner of the Hambletonian, and is the one event of the season that provides fans the chance to come to the track and see the best horses in the sport compete.

The estimated total purse account for this abbreviated season is just over $2.2 million from which the added money of $250,000 for the two stakes would be deducted.

Failing an acceptable compromise on this issue, Vernon Downs will not reopen for racing until the casino opens, hopefully by mid July.


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