Amid reports of a sale to a major outdoors retailer and use of its mostly vacant grandstand by homeless people, Atlantic City Race Course is prepared for four days of live turf racing beginning April 29 with a steeplechase program.
The southern New Jersey racetrack, which offers limited live racing to retain its year-round simulcast license, will offer two days of Thoroughbred racing May 4-5, followed by another steeplechase program May 13. After that, it's future is again in doubt.
According to a report in the Press
of Atlantic City, outdoors retailer Cabela's is interested in buying a site in the Mays Landing area where the track is located. If a deal is made, Cabela's would turn 254 acres into a 200,000-square-foot store and tourist attraction. The company is also negotiating to build a store near Meadowlands in northern New Jersey.
Cabela's representatives met with state Sen. Bill Gormley April 28 to discuss the viability of building a store in Atlantic County. Gormley said he would call several state agencies, including the Department of Community Affairs, on behalf of the retailer, and expects the project to be favorably received.
Greenwood Racing, which owns Atlantic City and Philadelphia Park, would keep several acres of the racetrack for an off-track betting parlor. Greenwood chief executive officer Hal Handel said called the report that a deal was close with Cabela's "very premature."
"I have had no contact with anyone from the company mentioned in the (newspaper) story," Handel said.
Greenwood purchased Atlantic City for $13 million in 2001 and has since run short meets of less than a week's duration, primarily to retain simulcast rights. The track applied for 10 dates this year, six of which will be held at Monmouth Park.
The track was scheduled to entries April 29 for its Thoroughbred programs, and racing secretary Sal Sinatra said he expects "500 to 600" entries for the 16 turf races (eight races each day), with New Jersey-breds preferred. Purses each day will average $171,500. Wagering will be offered on track only.
Sinatra described the grass course as in "great shape," but the condition of the rest of the aging facility is something far less than that.
Greenwood keeps open a small room for year-round simulcast located toward the rear of the grandstand near the paddock, with the rest of the building closed off. Sinatra said several homeless people had broken in over the winter and were using the grandstand as a shelter, while kids with skateboards were using the old dining room on the first floor.
"We called the police to get (the homeless) out, but it was a matter of catching them," Sinatra said. "They tended to come and go."
It marks a drastic change in fortunes for Atlantic City, where the grandstand/clubhouse were packed with patrons in the 1950s and 1960s. The facility at one time topped the nation in per-capita wagering.
Atlantic City also was known as an innovator with races such as the United Nations Handicap and Matchmaker Stakes. In the early 1980s, it became the first track in the United States to offer full-card, intertrack wagering from other New Jersey tracks.