by Tom DeMartini
New Jersey’s racing schedule currently consists of six dates at Atlantic City Race Course, but the president of the state’s horsemen’s group called any discussion of Monmouth Park not running a meet this year “premature.”
However, New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association president John Forbes described the fluid situation concerning the status of Monmouth’s 2011 season as “controlled chaos.”
The March 3 request for proposals issued by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority seeking a five-year lease operator for the Oceanport, N.J., racetrack was expected, but racing dates have yet to be requested. The backstretch and barn area is scheduled to open for training in early April.
The winning bidder that eventually runs Monmouth will immediately need to deal with two harsh realities: available purse money and a mandate of 141 live racing dates by state law. Forbes said horsemen aren’t backing off their position concerning the live-dates mandate.
“One of the sports authority’s issues in the due-diligence process is the requirement that we race 141 dates,” Forbes said. “The horsemen’s standpoint is 141 live dates is set in stone. It’s non-negotiable at this point in time.
“A number of people are interested (in operating Monmouth), and we’ll see who wants to step in. It’s semi-chaos until we find out who is interested and what their goals are. And, until then, no one can be certain about the future of racing in New Jersey.”
Forbes said horsemen would consider slashing dates again if a purse enhancement similar to that of 2010 deal is realized.
Last year Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed a one-year deal brokered by state legislators creating an “elite” 50-day meet with purses and other incentives averaging close to $1 million per day. Attendance and handle rose dramatically as a result.
A weekend-only fall meet with $300,000 in average daily purses replaced the Meadowlands fall Thoroughbred meet.
Christie is in the process of leasing Meadowlands to New York real estate executive Jeff Gural, an owner of Standardbred tracks in upstate New York. The state’s chief executive continues to oppose purse subsides from the state even though a recently passed law allows the New Jersey Racing Commission to allocate casino money to purses through 2013.
Forbes said the horsemen’s group supports the governor’s wish that New Jersey racing become self-sustaining.
“We want to protect the industry as much as we can and try to do what the governor wants,” Forbes said. “But, we still want to protect the survival of an industry that provides 13,000 to 15,000 jobs in the state with 7,000 to 8,000 of them tied to racing.”
Prospective bidders must provide the NJSEA with a $25,000 refundable deposit prior to the due-diligence process. A preliminary meeting for prospective bidders is scheduled for March 10 at Monmouth.
Published reports said Great Britain-based Betfair and Greenwood Racing, which owns Parx Racing in Pennsylvania and Atlantic City in New Jersey, are interested parties.
The deadline for filing applications is March 31. Monmouth traditionally begins it summer meet between mid-May and Memorial Day; a lessee would take over operations June 1, state officials have said.
Meanwhile, Atlantic City’s all-turf meet is scheduled for six consecutive days (Thursday through Tuesday) April 28-May 3. Track officials have said they would offer move live racing dates if the casino money is released and the NJRC awards some of it to Atlantic City, one of two privately-owned tracks in the state.