Sign at Monmouth Park informs patrons that the track is closed for live and simulcast racing.

Sign at Monmouth Park informs patrons that the track is closed for live and simulcast racing.

AP/Equi-Photo, Bill Denver

Jersey Standoff Threatens Major Racing Day

New Jersey racetracks were closed for live racing and simulcasting Thursday due to a continuing budget standoff in the state capital of Trenton. It was the first live card lost at Monmouth Park and the third at Meadowlands, which offers nighttime harness racing.

The ongoing dispute hovers threateningly over this weekend's racing, which on Saturday features the grade I, $750,000 United Nations Handicap on the grass at Monmouth. Meadowlands is scheduled to hold eliminations for its $1-million Meadowlands Pace that evening.

Gov. Jon Corzine and state legislators were unable to come to terms on a 2007 fiscal year budget by the 12:01 a.m. July 1 deadline, and Corzine subsequently closed all non-essential state services, which include the New Jersey Racing Commission and the Casino Control Commission. Failure to finalize a 2007 fiscal year budget has led to the furlough of nearly 80,000 state employees.

A court order issued July 2 enabled Monmouth to present live racing and simulcasting through July 4, and Meadowlands was able to offer simulcasts.

On Thursday morning, Corzine told legislators that "this is a deplorable state of circumstances," and implored them to approve a budget quickly. "Let's put New Jerseyans back to work and let them go on with their everyday lives," the governor said.

Atlantic City's 12 casinos had to close Wednesday, putting 36,000 casino employees out of work and costing the gambling resorts more than $16 million a day, according to the Associated Press. At noon Thursday, Senate President Richard Codey said progress was being made, and Corzine was in closed-door meetings with prime opponents of his plan to raise the state sales tax in order to balance the budget.

A nine-race card with purses totaling $221,000 was lost Thursday at Monmouth, while Friday's nine-race card with purses of nearly $200,000 is in jeopardy. The weekend programs remain up in the air as well, though officials are hopeful the stalemate ends soon.

"The only people working today are a handful of maintenance people and a skeleton crew taking entries in the racing office," said Bob Kulina, vice president and general manager at Monmouth. "Obviously, Thursday is the weakest day handle-wise for us, but the shutdown not only represents the loss of a racing day for our horsemen, but the loss of wages for our Aramark people (food and beverage vendors), the mutuel clerks, security guards, and everyone else who keep Monmouth going. Nobody's happy with this situation."

Kulina said a decision on Friday's card, barring a resolution in Trenton, would be made at about 7 a.m., and that entries for the United Nations would be taken Thursday afternoon.

"It's a shame, because it's one of the strongest (fields for the United Nations) ever," Kulina said. "If it has to be canceled on Saturday, it could be rescheduled for Sunday, but after that, you're running into scheduling problems, because horses of this caliber have their commitments."

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