A racetrack whose obituary was written more than 10 years ago finds itself in the odd situation of being the most stable track in New Jersey—for now at least—as it prepares to open its 65th season April 28.
Atlantic City Race Course will offer six consecutive days of all-turf racing April 28-May 3 to kick off the 2011 Thoroughbred racing season in New Jersey. There will be five six-race programs and a seven-race card on closing day.
The ACRC meet begins at a tumultuous time for Thoroughbred and harness racing in the state. The future of the two New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority tracks—Monmouth Park and Meadowlands—hinge on deals with private lessees, and their racing schedules for this year remain in flux.
Freehold Raceway, like ACRC privately owned, has reduced live harness racing dates and purses but holds its own financially. Unlike ACRC, however, it did share in the now discontinued casino purse supplements.
Monmouth, which opened its barn area April 18, opens for live racing May 14. The track was awarded 141 days of racing but it remains to be seen what the lessee, presumably developer and casino owner Morris Bailey, plans to do.
“We are concerned about the state of racing in New Jersey and certainly are pulling for our sister tracks,” ACRC president Maureen Gallagher Bugdon said April 18. “We’re the only self-sustaining track in the state and can do our meet as planned because we didn’t get a purse supplement.
“South Jersey residents and horsemen have long pulled for the track as an underdog. This track was counted out a long time ago, but it’s still here, and if there’s anything we can do to answer the problems in New Jersey racing, we’d absolutely step up and do that.”
ACRC, owned by Pennsylvania-based Greenwood Racing, has said it would increase the number of live dates should additional revenue be made available for racing in the state. Republican Gov. Chris Christie, an advocate for private operation of racetracks, has rejected further supplements, but opportunities to generate revenue could open up depending on what happens with the two NJSEA tracks.
“I believe the governor is tremendously supportive of what we do here,” Gallagher Bugdon said.
The racing program will be similar to those of previous years: all races will be run under maiden and starter allowance conditions, and there will be one stakes: the $50,000 Tony Gatto Dream Big Stakes on closing day. Overnight purses will range from $15,000-$27,000.
Post time each day is set for 3:30 p.m. EDT. The ACRC signal will be exported to other outlets in and out of state.
Gallagher Bugdon said the turf course “looks phenomenal,” and that mild weather in southern New Jersey has helped. As usual, local schools and community groups will be involved in the meet, selling concession items to raise funds.
Last year ACRC reported double-digit gains in attendance and pari-mutuel handle. The meet is largely promoted through word of mouth but crowds of 5,000-6,000 aren’t unusual.
Meanwhile, Hamilton Township, where the track is located, is moving ahead with plans for a public/private partnership that could lead to redevelopment of a portion of the ACRC property to accommodate the flight technology industry. Under the plan the grandstand would be eligible for renovations and a hotel and smaller barn area would be built.