Horsemen and management at New Jersey's two state racetracks are close to a deal on a revision of 2003 racing dates. The two sides have been communicating almost daily the last few weeks in an attempt to make next year a success following disappointing meets at Monmouth Park and Meadowlands this year.The New Jersey Racing Commission approved 151 dates for 2003, which includes 10 for Atlantic City Race Course. Since that time Bruce Garland, senior vice president of racing for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, and Dennis Drazin, legal counsel for the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, have been hammering out an agreement whereby only 120 dates will be run.In 2002, 141 dates were run."I don't think there's anyone left who thinks 141 dates will work without a significant amount of purse money," Garland said. "In the short term, that means running less dates, and in the long term, everyone has to be focused and united about developing new sources of revenue. That means phone betting, off-track betting, and video lottery terminals."Drazin said he proposed running a traditional 72-day meet at Monmouth, with 20 additional dates to be run there in September, and then the remainder at Meadowlands. The NJSEA, he said, would provide $34 million for stakes and overnight purses, which would give each venue about $300,000 a day in purses.This year, both tracks experienced declines in on-track and total handle, with Meadowlands especially hard-hit. Purses at the Big M were down nearly 50% from their 2001 levels, and the quality of racing was poor. That prompted Garland to print a letter of apology to fans in the track program.Drazin said that, while the horsemen were willing to run less dates in 2003 and 2004, they expected to return to 141 dates from 2005 to 2008. "Given these tough economic times, we need to wait to run our 141-day season," he said.Legislation is being crafted to allow 120 dates to be run rather than the mandated 141. Also, a bill to legalize racetrack video lottery terminals is in the works, Drazin said.