Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

New Era in New Jersey Racing Begins May 22

Monmouth Park's average daily purses of $1 million will be highest in the country.

The radically altered new format for New Jersey racing will kick off May 22 with the 50-day race meet at Monmouth Park, the racetrack announced March 15.

Under a schedule that has been negotiated and approved by Governor’s Gaming, Sports, and Entertainment Advisory Commission, racetrack executives, and representatives of horsemen’s groups, the number of live racing days in the state this year will total 71, almost exactly half the 141 run each of the past several years. The result will be average daily purses of $1 million during the summer meet at Monmouth, the highest of any track in the country. Monmouth Park offered $331,000 in average daily purses in 2009.

Monmouth will host a fall racing meet on Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 21, and there will be no Thoroughbred racing at Meadowlands in 2010.

"We’re confident that this new racing schedule, coupled with the nation’s highest purses, will breathe new life into this industry and become a new foundation for racing, breeding and tourism in the Garden State," said Dennis R. Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns and operates Monmouth, said in a statement.

Following opening weekend of May 22 and 23, live racing returns May 29, May 30, and May 31 (Memorial Day). After the Memorial Day card, Monmouth will race Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays as well as Monday, July 5, and Monday, Sept. 6 (Labor Day).

After the Labor Day card, Monmouth will host live racing Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 21. Purses for those cards will range from $250,000 to $300,000 per day, with the exception of Saturday, Sept. 18, when New Jersey-bred races are carded for purses of about $1 million.

"This is a game-changer, not just for racing in New Jersey, but for the entire region," Robinson said. "The longevity of the racing season is nearly identical to what it has been the past several years; but with fewer dates and the highest purses in the country, we’re more than a little optimistic that significant gains in attendance, handle, and field size are quickly on the horizon."

According to the release, major changes to the purse structure include maiden special weight events, which will go for $75,000, and an entry-level allowance test, which will be set at $80,000. By comparison, purses for those races in 2009 were $38,000 and $41,000, respectively. Overnight stakes, which were contested for $60,000 to $70,000 in 2009, will start at $100,000 during the meet.

"There’s no question that this purse structure will generate interest from horsemen throughout the country," Robert Kulina, vice president and general manager of Monmouth, said in a statement. "The reality is fans have been asking for quality, competitive racing with larger field sizes. What we’re offering in 2010 should more than satiate that appetite and produce results favorable to fans, horsemen, the sports authority, and the state of New Jersey."

The racetrack expects to average 12 live races per day, with holiday cards likely to see 12 to 13 live events.

Robinson said money saved by not having Thoroughbred racing at Meadowlands for the first time since 1977 will help close the 2010 budget gap at the NJSEA. "As time goes on, we’re optimistic that the changes we’re implementing this year will not only shrink our annual deficit, but hopefully return the Monmouth Park meet back to profitability," he said.

The New Jersey Thoroughbred racing season begins with April 18 with six days of all-turf racing at Atlantic City Race Course through April 24.