The New Jersey Racing Commission granted 2009 racing dates Nov. 19 for Atlantic City Race Course and Freehold Raceway, two tracks that have been involved in conflicts tied to casino-paid purse supplements.
Freehold, owned by Pennwood Racing, whose partners are Penn National Gaming Inc. and Greenwood Racing, applied for 192 racing dates next year. NJRC executive director Frank Zanzuccki said the commission granted all dates requests.
Monmouth and Meadowlands will hold their customary Thoroughbred meets in the spring, summer, and fall. Monmouth was awarded 94 dates from May 9-Sept. 27. Meadowlands will race from Oct. 1-Dec. 5. The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates the two tracks, and horsemen have a current deal whereby Monmouth and Meadowlands combined must offer 141 Thoroughbred dates each year.
Meadowlands will bag its late-fall harness meet and instead race three more weeks in August.
Atlantic City, as predicted by a few officials, got the OK to race six days of turf racing in 2009. Details weren’t immediately available, but the Press of Atlantic City reported the southern New Jersey track backed away from efforts to seek part of the casino purse subsidy, and also must begin an improvement plan for the facility, which opened in 1946.
According to the latest NJRC annual report, total on-track handle for live racing at Atlantic City went from $335,350 for four days in 2003 to $731,283 for four programs in 2007. Average daily handle went from $83,838 to $182,821; average daily attendance last year was 4,310.
Atlantic City raced six days (two three-day weeks) in April and May of 2008, and requested three two-day weeks of racing in April and early May of 2009. The dates are April 16-17, April 23-24, April 30, and May 1.
The racing commission wanted the track to offer at least 20 days in 2009, but granted the six requested days after the track said it couldn’t afford 20 live racing programs without financial assistance. Atlantic City has indicated it will attempt to add days as revenue permits.
In return for not seeking alternative gaming, the two NJSEA tracks along with Freehold will get $90 million for purses through 2010 from the Atlantic City casinos. Atlantic City Race Course wasn’t part of the agreement.
Pennwood supports Freehold horsemen getting almost $7 million in subsidies but has balked at signing the agreement because it put restrictions on the parent companies—not just Freehold. The purse money for Freehold hasn’t been paid because of the conflict.
The NJRC is scheduled to meet Dec. 3 with the Standardbred Owners and Breeders Association of New Jersey, which called for regulators to take sanctions against Freehold and delay granting the track 2009 dates. Pennwood officials have said the company continues to seek other avenues to get the money to horsemen.
The SBOANJ had representatives on hand at the Nov. 19 meeting. The organization issued a press release afterward that included comments made by SBOANJ president Tom Luchento to the racing commission.
“I’m tired of fighting everybody and going in circles,” Luchento said. “Freehold’s fate is in its own hands. If they want to race 192 dates with an anemic purse structure and watch horsemen migrate to other racing jurisdictions, so be it. Based on what you have done, you might as well give the casino purse supplement money that we’ve been trying to get for Freehold to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority for the Meadowlands."
A proposed governor-appointed committee, when formed, will study long-term funding methods for the four tracks in the state as well as feasible racing schedules.