Officials Bullish on Future Monmouth Meets

Monmouth officials hope to improve upon the successful 2010 meet next year.

Despite political and financial uncertainty, New Jersey officials expect Monmouth Park to offer a similar schedule in 2011 and already are discussing ways to improve upon this year’s “Elite Summer Meet,” which greatly exceeded expectations.

The individuals primarily responsible for the less-is-more concept at Monmouth discussed the 2010 meet and its ramifications Sept. 21 during the International Simulcast Conference in Clearwater, Fla. There will be changes next year, but the overall structure worked for New Jersey racing, they said.

“This plan saved racing in New Jersey,” said Dennis Drazin, a longtime Thoroughbred owner and breeder who now chairs the New Jersey Racing Commission. “We wanted to make a statement. Now it’s up to the politicians to go find money for the future.”

Monmouth was able to pay almost an average of $800,000 a day in purses over 50 days with help from a $20 million casino purse supplement that ends this year. When other payments such as breeders’ awards and workers’ compensation are added to the mix, about $1 million a day was paid.

Drazin said despite recommendations in a controversial report commissioned by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, he believes the administration and members of the General Assembly “want racing to survive, and want to create ways for racing to increase revenue. We’ve given them a reason.”

The options being discussed include a build-out of off-track betting parlors, Internet wagering, and exchange wagering, all of which hinge on legislative action. Alternative gaming is off the table—for now.

“I think we can grow revenue to support the industry,” Drazin said. “We’ll need some temporary assistance, which I think will be forthcoming. A state subsidy isn’t going to happen, but I’m convinced they’ll find the revenue. I’m optimistic we’ll find a way to repeat the meet next year.

“Five years from now we may be talking about an extremely different picture with things that politically aren’t feasible right now.”

Monmouth vice president and general manager Robert Kulina said it was easier to sell the horsemen on the concept of racing fewer days for higher purses than it was to convince the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates Monmouth. The general assumption was average daily handle of $6 million was a stretch; the almost $8 million a day that materialized was completely unexpected.

“(The NJSEA) put together a very conservative budget, and we beat it by $4 million all in the 50 days,” Kulina said. Monmouth is in the midst of another 21-day meet that extends through late November.

Kulina said he believes Monmouth had lost its direction in terms of its product and needed to make substantial changes moving forward. Horsemen didn’t have much time to plan for the upgraded meet this year, but now they have an idea of what to expect in 2011, he said.

The stakes schedule will be reviewed. Kulina suggested it would benefit Monmouth and other tracks in the region to carefully plan to avoid a situation not uncommon: four $100,000 stakes on the same day or weekend at different tracks, with multiple horses cross-entered in them.

The $1,500 per-starter payment at Monmouth was very popular, Kulina said, though it could be tweaked.

“We had to give away a lot of things this year that we’ll probably have to look at when we do this again, and I believe we’ll do it again next year,” Drazin said of the meet.

The number of claims greatly increased this year at Monmouth because of the purse structure and wide variety of classes. On one occasion there was a 20-way shake for a $7,500 claimer; on another day almost 20 horses were claimed.

The NJSEA and harness horsemen are looking at using the Monmouth model at The Meadowlands in 2011 in an attempt to increase overnight purses and make the harness meet more event-driven.