Atlantic City Beats Odds, Posts Big Gains

Atlantic City Race Course posted substantial gains in handle and attendance.

Atlantic City Race Course ended its six-day meet April 24 with encouraging gains in a critical year for Thoroughbred racing in New Jersey. But where the track goes from here remains to be seen.

Numbers were up across the board at the southern New Jersey track that was supposed to close in the late 1990s but has continued offering short meets to maintain its simulcast license. Full fields for the all-turf program and pleasant weather contributed to the increases.

Total handle for 37 races run from April 18-24 was $3,894,808, up 19.47% from $3,259,953 for the same number of races over six days. On-track handle totaled $957,734, up 24.18% from $771,243 in 2009. Export handle increased 18.01% from $2,488,710 last year to $2,937,074.

The turnstiles are no longer used at Atlantic City, but total attendance was reported at 34,817 at the track that opened in 1946. The average was 5,802, up 35.62% from 4,278 in 2009.

The largest reported crowds were 8,506 on closing day, a Saturday, and 7,233 on opening day, a Sunday. The track hasn't raced on a weekend in roughly 10 years.

Field size, for which Atlantic City led North America last year, averaged 10.11 horses per race, down slightly from 10.46 last year, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems. Purses averaged $125,099, up 3.96% from $120,332 in 2009.

ACRC president Maureen Gallagher-Bugdon said the track would like to expand its racing dates and perhaps offer two meets per year. It comes down to purse money, she said.

“Given the success of the recent meets at ACRC and this year’ 15-year record attendance numbers, we absolutely believe South Jersey wants to see more race days at Atlantic City Race Course, and we think this could be the perfect complement to the new Monmouth Park schedule,” Gallagher-Bugdon said. “I’d love to see ACRC offer 10-15 days in the spring just before Monmouth opens, and another 10-15 days in fall after Monmouth closes.

“The demand and love for Thoroughbred racing is certainly well-evidenced by the crowds we’re seeing and the feedback we're gotten from our fans. More racing at ACRC is not only good for ACRC, it’s good for the industry as a whole, but in order to race more days, we need more purse money. The purse money we accumulate year-round is dedicated to our six days, and we really can’t offer more without additional funding.”

Monmouth, operated by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, opens May 22 for a major experiment: a condensed 50 days of racing with average daily purses of $1 million. This is the final year of a three-year, $90 million Atlantic City casino purse supplement for racing, and there is no indication it will be extended.

Atlantic City, owned by Pennsylvania-based Greenwood Racing, is the only New Jersey track that doesn’t receive part of the supplement. The track failed in attempts last year to get a few million dollars from the supplement.

A Greenwood official has mentioned the possibility of Atlantic City offering a few more racing dates later this year, but it remains to be seen if purse money will be available.

“I think folks have become very protective and territorial of ACRC and South Jersey, in general, when it comes to this facility and its yearly turf festivals,” Gallagher-Bugdon said. “They see money being accumulated in Atlantic City for the casino purse supplement, and they see their track not receiving any of that.

“Atlantic City Race Course is actually the only track in the state of New Jersey operating on its own accord without a subsidy of any kind, and our fans and employees know that their support and efforts are directly responsible for our success. We’ve earned their respect and we hope others throughout the industry begin to take notice of South Jersey’s racetrack and help us to offer more Thoroughbred racing at the Jersey Shore.

“We’re a terrific compliment to the Atlantic City casino tourism market, and it just makes sense to have other entertainment and recreational opportunities in this area to extend the visitor season.”

Atlantic City is open year-round for full-card simulcasts. Gallagher-Bugdon said preliminary plans to develop underutilized portions of the 254-acre property—including the aging barn area—are geared toward complementing horse racing, not eliminating it.