After an acrimonious two years of fighting over dates, New Jersey horsemen and the quasi-state agency that runs Monmouth Park and Meadowlands are in the process of hammering out a deal that would reduce the number of live Thoroughbred dates in 2003 in order to maintain or improve the quality of the product.
Under a plan being worked out by the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, just 100 days of live racing--all of it at Monmouth Park--may be offered. As stipulated by the off-track and account wagering legislation passed in 2001, a minimum of 141 live dates must be offered, but horsemen have the option of approving fewer dates if economic conditions warrant.
"We're trying to structure a season that gives us a quality product," New Jersey THA counsel Dennis Drazin said. "Although we want to race 141 days, we also don't want to destroy the current level of racing. We don't think we could recover if that happened."
Monmouth and Meadowlands offered lower purses for 2002, but Meadowlands has been especially hard-hit by lower pari-mutuel handle. The purse structure of just $150,000 a day is far less than the record $368,000 offered last year.
According to statistics provided by the track, average daily handle through Nov. 2 has declined more than 13%, with the only bright spot being Tuesday cards. This year, Tuesday cards were switched from night to afternoon, and the total handle surged by 90%.
A 100-day meet all at Monmouth in 2003 would offer daily pots of more than $325,000, according to the New Jersey THA. That would be the highest in the history of the track. In 2001, purses were $300,000, but only after the state legislature approved a purse supplement. This year, purses averaged $269,000 at Monmouth.