Horsemen and officials at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority are close to sealing a dates deal for 2003 through 2008, but a final racing calendar for the Garden State may not be known for several months."We've made a lot of progress, and we're close to a deal," said Dennis Drazin, legal counsel for the New JerseyThoroughbred Horsemen's Association, after a meeting Jan. 9 at Meadowlands with George Zoffinger, NJSEA chief executive officer, and Bruce Garland, NJSEA senior vice president of racing. "If the New Jersey Racing Commission issues weren't out there, we could conclude the deal."The New Jersey THA and the commission have been at odds since a bill was passed by both the House and Senate in October allowing horsemen to become members of the commission. The bill was conditionally vetoed by Gov. James McGreevey.Recently, the commission has alleged wrongdoing in the New Jersey THA and had a state superior court judge freeze the money in its interest account. The commission claims the money was used for huge political contributions and raises for its top executives at the expense of funding backstretch benefits.Garland echoed Drazin's comments. He said the NJSEA's dates negotiations with the horsemen have been "very productive."Both groups want the number of dates reduced in 2003 and 2004 to 120, and intend to have lawmakers introduce legislation to amend the current off-track and account wagering legislation that mandates 141 dates. If the legislation can be moved through the House and Senate by March, Drazin said, Monmouth Park would run 72 dates this year and Meadowlands 48. The NJSEA has guaranteed purses at Monmouth would be $300,000.In 2004, 92 dates would be run at Monmouth with the remainder at Meadowlands. From 2005-08, 141 dates would be run. Stabling at Monmouth would be provided from April 1 through Dec. 1, beginning this year.