By Tom De Martini
Uncertainty concerning live racing dates and average daily purse levels continue to swirl around the upcoming Monmouth Park season following the March 18 agenda meeting of New Jersey Racing Commission at Freehold Raceway.
The New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, currently in the process of selecting a lessee for the Oceanport, N.J. racetrack, was granted an amendment allowing it to slightly tweak Monmouth’s current 141-date schedule.
However, Monmouth Park general manager and vice president Robert Kulina said the exact number of 2011 thoroughbred racing dates will ultimately be determined by the track’s eventual lessee.
“This is ongoing. It will be the obligation of the new lessee to look at the number of dates that makes sense and negotiate with the thoroughbred horsemen,” Kulina said. “The lessee has a lot of options under the request for proposal. They can set the management or opt for the Sports Authority to continue management.”
Eight prospective bidders provided the NJSEA with a $25,000 refundable deposit prior to the due-diligence process. A preliminary meeting for prospective bidders was held at Monmouth Park March 10.
Bidders include John Brunetti, owner of Hialeah Park, Great Britain-based Betfair and Greenwood Racing, which owns Parx Racing in Pennsylvania and Atlantic City in New Jersey, a holding company owned by Magna Entertainment Corp.’s Frank Stronach, and the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.
The deadline for filing applications is March 31. Any lessee would take over operations June 1.
On Friday, the commission approved Monmouth’s request to start its 2011 season on May 14, racing weekends only and beginning a schedule in June that will mirror last year’s in length.
Six days of turf racing will be contested at the Meadowlands in the fall in order to credit Thoroughbred horsemen with simulcasting dollars wagered at that facility to the Thoroughbred purse account. Kulina said the Monmouth schedule will extend a week into mid-November.
Whether that schedule stays in place remains to be seen. State law mandates a minimum of 141 live dates through 2016 in order to keep account wagering and off-track wagering operations running, something thoroughbred horsemen consider set in stone.
New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association representative Tim Williams called the current Monmouth Park schedule a moot point March 16.
“They have no idea if and who will run Monmouth Park,” Williams said. “We have a law that calls for 141 days and that’s what we have.”
Earlier this month, NJTHA president John Forbes said the mandated 141 date requirement is a non-negotiable point, unless funding is available to bolster purse levels.
Last year, Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation shortening racing dates to create a 50-day “elite” meeting at Monmouth, followed by a short weekend-only fall stand.
Funding from the Casino Association of New Jersey helped fund the elite meeting. Christie has nixed additional funding from Atlantic City casinos this year.
Kulina said purses for a 141 date meeting with current monies available would average “slightly less than $200,000,” per day.
“Our obligation, and the industry’s obligation, is to offer the customer the best available product and we’re trying to do that,” Kulina said.
In other business, the commission granted a request allowing Monmouth Park to offer a 50-cent Pick Six place wager with a 15% take out. Simulcast programs will rise in price to $4 from its former $3 and season parking pass prices will increase to $85 from $75.