New Jersey Dates Deal: 120 Programs in 2003

The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and horsemen will ask the state racing commission for 120 live Thoroughbred dates for 2003 instead of 146, officials said Feb. 27. Monmouth Park would kick off the calendar Memorial Day, May 24, if the schedule is approved.

The joint announcement comes after several months of negotiations between the NJSEA and New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. The plan is to reduce dates to maintain high-quality racing not only at Monmouth but at Meadowlands in the fall. A higher number of days was considered in talks last year.

"The sports authority will be guaranteeing purses of $300,000 per day for the traditional Monmouth Park meet, and with stakes it will be $345,000," said Bruce Garland, senior executive vice president of racing for the NJSEA.

"We want to do everything we can for Monmouth Park to offer the highest possible quality racing," said George Zoffinger, president and chief executive officer of the NJSEA. "By offering a high-level purse structure, we are making a clear commitment to Thoroughbred racing in the state of New Jersey. It is an extraordinary step, but a risk worth taking."

Said Dennis Drazin, legal counsel for the New Jersey THA: "We are pleased to have reached an agreement that will guarantee horsemen quality purses and stabling from April 14 through Dec. 1. This agreement is a first step in developing a long-term strategy for the entire racing industry."

Monmouth would offer 92 days of racing if approved by the New Jersey Racing Commission. The traditional portion of the meet is from Memorial Day to Labor Day; purse levels would decrease from that point through the meet's conclusion Sept. 28.

Meadowlands would run a short meet of 28 days from Oct. 2-Nov. 8. This year, the track will host Breeders Crown championship events for Standardbreds during a harness meet that begins in mid-November.

Monmouth vice president Bob Kulina said the $300,000 per day in purses for the traditional Monmouth meet would be at the same level as in 2001, when the track broke records for both attendance and total handle. The stable area at Monmouth would open for horsemen April 14 and remain open through Dec. 1.

The NJSEA and horsemen also pledged to work together to have the legislature amend the off-track wagering statute to allow for the reduction of 141 mandated days to 120 for years 2003 and 2004, and increase the number of years for the 141-date minimum to four (from 2005 through 2008).