Breeders' Cup officials visited Monmouth Park in New Jersey for a tour Nov. 28, but they said it wasn't because the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority-operated racetrack was in danger of losing the 2007 Breeders' Cup World Championships as published reports had suggested.
The NJSEA recently announced plans for a 20% cutback in staff, and there was a new personnel development that had Breeders' Cup concerned, said Damon Thayer, vice president of Breeders' Cup event management.
"Monmouth Park was never in serious jeopardy of losing the Breeders' Cup," Thayer said Nov. 29. "However, we did have concerns related to the announcement of buyouts and the fact Chris McErlean--my point person on the Breeders' Cup for the past five years--had decided to leave the NJSEA. Coincidentally, we had planned a tour with (Breeders' Cup chairman) Bill Farish and (Breeders' Cup president) Greg Avioli to fully brief them as to the status of the contract as Monmouth Park makes preparations for next year's event."
McErlean, vice president of racing for Monmouth and Meadowlands, the two NJSEA-operated tracks, declined to comment Nov. 29. A report in the Asbury Park Press
indicated he was leaving his post to take a job with Penn National Gaming Inc.; sources confirmed that is the case.
Monmouth will host its first Breeders' Cup next year. A new turf course was installed this year, and other improvements to the facility are being made in anticipation of the event. Monmouth has about 13,000 permanent seats and thus will rely heavily on temporary seating.
A Breeders' Cup never has been held at a Mid-Atlantic racetrack, though multiple Cup host Belmont Park is located not far from Monmouth in New York.
"I think the rumors (of problems with the host site) were exaggerated, and (the visit by Breeders' management) fanned the flames, so to speak," Thayer said. "This year's event at Churchill Downs was Greg's first as Breeders' Cup president, and it was his desire to get fully engaged in the Monmouth Park planning process.
"Frankly, we had a great meeting (Nov. 28). While the event is being held at Monmouth, we feel we have the total support of the state of New Jersey from the governor on down. The NJSEA is one of the world's most foremost event operators. These people know how to put on events."
NJSEA officials were on hand at Churchill Breeders' Cup week, and also were in attendance at Belmont last year and Lone Star Park in 2004 to get a handle on the event. First-time host Lone Star also relied heavily on temporary seating.
In a recent interview with The Blood-Horse
, Dennis Dowd, senior vice president of racing for the NJSEA, said Breeders' Cup preparations are on schedule. "All the construction projects are right where they should be," he said.