Commission, Horsemen Seal Deal in Jersey

by Tom LaMarra and Linda Dougherty

The New Jersey Racing Commission and New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association made official March 31 a legal settlement that allows the state racing industry to proceed with plans to host the 2007 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Monmouth Park.

The two parties, which met for about five hours in New Jersey Superior Court, have been at odds over issues such as use of funds and horsemen's representation. They had until April 9 to settle their differences. If they hadn't, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Breeders' Cup were prepared to select another host site for the 2007 event.

The settlement calls for funds subject to racing commission control--2.9% of all purses, and money in the New Jersey THA bookkeeper interest account--to be returned to the control of the commission, according to a release from the state Office of the Attorney General. Also, 70% of the funds subject to commission oversight must be used for horsemen's programs.

The THA has agreed to elect a new governing board and has committed to having a majority of the board consist of new members.

"This is an important day for horse racing in New Jersey," racing commission executive director Frank Zanzuccki said in a release. "This settlement not only helps us to ensure the integrity of the sport, it clears the way for the Breeders' Cup races to be held in our state.

"The goal of the racing commission in filing its original lawsuit against the THA was to ensure that funds earmarked for programs intended to benefit horsemen and backstretch personnel were in fact used for those purposes. This settlement allows us to achieve those goals."

Said Dennis Drazin, counsel for the New Jersey THA and a prominent Thoroughbred owner/breeder in the Garden State: "The most important thing to come out of the agreement was that Monmouth Park will keep the Breeders' Cup. From the New Jersey THA board's standpoint, we could have won the lawsuit against the racing commission, but at the price of the Breeders' Cup."

Drazin said the New Jersey THA would now have a three-year budget, rather than the year-by-year budget that had to be approved by the commission and was last approved in 2001. He said the horsemen's group would have $250,000 per year to hire a "governmental relations specialist," or lobbyist, and for direct political contributions. In the three-year budget, the amount will be $750,000.

The New Jersey THA would like to increase its lobbying efforts for legislation that would allow gaming devices at Meadowlands, he said.

"We will be able to operate without all the problems we had before," Drazin said. "In the past, even something like paying dues to a national organization couldn't get done."

The dispute had nothing to do with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates Monmouth and Meadowlands. NJSEA officials, who began planning for the Breeders' Cup in earnest last year, worked out their differences with horsemen early last year.

Attorney Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, of which the New Jersey THA is a member, said he, too, believes horsemen would have prevailed in legal proceedings but is happy with the settlement.

"I'm extremely pleased," Foreman said. "(The horsemen) were a driving force in getting New Jersey in the mix for consideration for a Breeders' Cup. The goal was to have the Breeders' Cup in an environment with positive energy, but that wasn't happening. I'm very pleased for our horsemen because they've clearly been vindicated in the settlement.

"We want to build on the cooperation developed between the sports authority and horsemen, and regulators have to foster that environment."