The old paddock toteboard at Atlantic City Race Course could be an indication the odds for the New Jersey racetrack aren't too good beyond this year.

The old paddock toteboard at Atlantic City Race Course could be an indication the odds for the New Jersey racetrack aren't too good beyond this year.

Blood-Horse photo

Has Atlantic City Reached Finish Line?

Atlantic City will race six days this year, but 2009 remains a big question mark.

As Atlantic City Race Course prepares for a six-day all-turf meet, from April 23-25 and April 30-May 2, many observers believe it will be the last hurrah for the New Jersey track that opened in 1946.

With the departure last year of chief executive officer Hal Handel from Atlantic City owner Greenwood Racing to the New York Racing Association, plans to have the existing grandstand razed and a new, smaller facility built that would be utilized for live racing and simulcasts seem to have been abandoned. Handel had been overseeing the project, as well as the off-track wagering sites in New Jersey that Greenwood is constructing.

“We believe that, with Hal’s departure, this may be the last year for Atlantic City,” said Dennis Drazin, president of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “We received indications that Greenwood is pursuing redevelopment plans which do not include a racetrack.”

Officials at Greenwood have not commented publicly on the status of Atlantic City since Handel left, and attempts to contact them were unsuccessful.

The New Jersey THA and Greenwood are in negotiations over what percentage of simulcast handle will be paid to horsemen during the upcoming meet. This is the first year since 1997 that Atlantic City will export its signal. In the past, it has run four-day meets strictly to maintain its license to offer year-round simulcasts on the first floor of its grandstand, which looks much like it did 30 years ago.

For the last several years, patrons were only able to wager on Atlantic City races while on track. Remarkably, Atlantic City has lured thousands of patrons each day without promotion.

Though the New Jersey Racing Commission granted Atlantic City’s request to run six days in 2008, it required the South Jersey track to export its signal this year and run at least 20 days in 2009. In 2006, Atlantic City officials requested a 20-day meet for 2008, citing its redevelopment plans and strong interest from Hamilton Township, where it is located.

The New Jersey THA filed an appeal of the commission’s decision, but Drazin said he doesn’t expect the appeal to be heard before Atlantic City’s 2008 meet begins.

“(Greenwood) represented to the commission that 2007 would be the last year they would run less than 20 days,” Drazin said. Atlantic City hasn’t run more than a 30-day meet since 1997, and has continued to break its promise to run longer meets since then, he said.

Atlantic City doesn’t receive any of the purse subsidies provided by the Atlantic City casinos to the New Jersey racing industry because of its short meets.  At the racing commission’s annual November dates meeting last year, former New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority senior vice president Bruce Garland, who is now a consultant for Greenwood, requested Atlantic City receive a portion of that purse subsidy, but that request was not granted.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic City condition book for this year has been published. It calls for only six races a day, down from eight last year.

Turf races for claimers, straight maidens, and those with starter allowance conditions have proven rather popular in the spring at Atlantic City. Last year, field size averaged 10.03 horses per race—the highest average in the United States—for 29 races, according to The Jockey Club Information Services. Average daily purses were $153,585.