Jersey Horsemen Seek Answers With Tracks on Block

While representatives of New Jersey Thoroughbred horsemen claim they have been aware of the desire of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to sell Monmouth Park and Meadowlands for nearly a year, there are many questions they want answered from prospective buyers, and they believe the timing of the announcement was poor.

"While the rest of the country is celebrating the Kentucky Derby, we learn through front-page headlines of the sports authority's plans to sell two racetracks," said Barbara DeMarco-Reiche, lobbyist for the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

Late the week of April 28, NJSEA chief executive officer George Zoffinger revealed plans to sell the racetracks in keeping with Gov. Jim McGreevey's wishes to get the state out of the sports business. Zoffinger said he would determine the tracks' value with the help of an investment-banking firm.

"We're not in favor of selling the tracks unless there are questions that are answered," said Dennis Drazin, counsel for the New Jersey THA. "We want horsemen's interests protected, and we want to know what purse levels and live racing dates a prospective buyer or lessee would guarantee. We also would want that new buyer to keep up with the maintenance of the tracks."

Drazin said one option for Monmouth is to get it under the auspices of the state's Green Acres program. "Gov. McGreevey had asked about using Green Acres funds to help retire Monmouth Park's $70 million debt," Drazin said.
"By doing so, not only would the debt be retired, but the Oceanport racetrack would be preserved forever."

The Garden State Preservation Trust makes about $115 million available to Green Acres each year. Green Acres serves as the real estate agent for the state and buys land to add to the system of state parks, forests, natural areas, and wildlife management areas.

Drazin said that given a sale estimate of $300 million for both tracks, the state wouldn't realize as much profit as people believe given Monmouth's debt and the $11-million debt incurred recently when infrastructure improvements were made to the facility.

"We would support the governor's idea of Green Acres protection for Monmouth," Drazin said. "But if not, we'd like to see the sports authority choose a new owner based not only on the best price, but the best use of the property."

Several parties that have been identified as potential buyers of Monmouth and Meadowlands include Churchill Downs Inc., Magna Entertainment Corp., former Standardbred owner Louis Guida, and Standardbred owner Bill Perretti.

Greenwood Racing, which owns Freehold Raceway and Atlantic City Race Course in New Jersey and Philadelphia Park in Pennsylvania, also has expressed an interest in the NJSEA tracks.

"We have requested copies of whatever materials the sports authority sends out as part of any solicitations of interest in racing assets," Greenwood chief executive officer Hal Handel said. "It's not very likely, however, that we could compete with the big two (Magna and Churchill) in my view, and it's far too early to tell if we might be an actual bidder."