Jersey Racing Hits a Critical Point

Delays in a purse supplement or other forms of financial relief from the state have led New Jersey’s harness racing industry to brace for serious purse reductions.

In a Jan. 22 release, the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey said Meadowlands, widely considered the top harness track in the world, could cut average daily purses from the current $220,000 to $90,000--a staggering reduction--by the end of January. The SBOANJ called the prospective cuts “drastic.”

Freehold Raceway, meanwhile, has reduced purses yet again. The bottom purse, for $4,000 claimers, would be $2,000, a minimum not seen in many years at the central New Jersey harness track.

“No deal has been reached as of yet for a new purse supplement,” Freehold management told horsemen in a memo. “We have been overpaying purses by over $100,000 per week. With the current purse schedule, we would be in an overpayment situation in another week.

“This will be the new purse schedule until a new agreement is reached. Unfortunately, we will not be able to write an invitational pace, open mares, or open trot until a new agreement is reached.”

“Open” events, which usually go for about $15,000, are for the top horses on the grounds at harness tracks. Without them, the top purse at Freehold will be $9,100, which is the low end at some tracks with alternative gaming in neighboring states.

The SBOANJ said Meadowlands is considering the purse reduction, and could request “payback of the overpayments” made in January. The track has been paying regular purses on the hope a supplement would be authorized by the state legislature or Gov. Jon Corzine.

“We are still hoping that the governor will fulfill the promise he made in October to provide a supplement for the racing industry,” SBOANJ president Tom Luchento said in a statement. “We are at a crossroads for the future of racing and breeding in this state. We need the legislators and the governor to step up and finalize this agreement.”

The previous purse-supplement deal with Atlantic City casinos expired at the end of 2007. The racing industry got the money on the premise it wouldn't pursue legislation for on-track video lottery terminals.

The purse cuts weren’t unexpected, and they leave in question the status of Thoroughbred purses when live racing resumes at Monmouth Park in May. Monmouth in 2007 paid about $300,000 a day, a figure officials said can’t be maintained without a supplement.

Without assistance, Thoroughbred purses at Monmouth and Meadowlands could drop below $200,000 a day, officials said late last year.

Live Thoroughbred racing returns to New Jersey in late April at Atlantic City Race Course for a six-day meet that currently doesn’t rely on money from a purse supplement.

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