Legislation Targets New Jersey Racing Panel

A New Jersey senator who was instrumental in the passage of legislation that authorized off-track and account wagering in the state introduced a bill Feb. 21 that calls for reconstitution of the New Jersey Racing Commission. If passed, the legislation would allow Gov. Jim McGreevey to appoint all new members to the panel.

Sen. Martha Bark, who represents some southern New Jersey counties, introduced the bill, which comes at a time when Thoroughbred racing in the state is in turmoil. Racetracks and horsemen, which worked out differences last year to get the off-track and account wagering legislation passed, have been at odds this year over racing dates.

Bark has publicly expressed her displeasure with the racing commission. Even though the 2001 law calls for a minimum of 141 dates at Monmouth Park and Meadowlands for three years beginning in 2002, the commission approved a 120-day schedule for this year at the request of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates both tracks.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association on Feb. 21 filed an "order to show cause" in state the Superior Court's Monmouth County Chancery Division. NJSEA officials are expected to appear March 8.

In the complaint, horsemen touch on a number of issues they have heralded in recent months. The complaint contends the NJSEA must have a contract with the New Jersey THA to continue interstate simulcasting, and it asks that any language related to simulcasting be deleted from stall applications. It also requests a declaration as to why the NJSEA should not maintain the 64-36 ratio of Standardbred dates to Thoroughbred dates at Meadowlands as established in 1974 by law and pursuant to a bond resolution.

The plaintiffs are the New Jersey THA, owner Leonard Miraglia, trainer John Forbes, and George Carroll, a NJSEA bondholder. The defendants are the NJSEA and Bruce Garland, its senior vice president of racing.

Dennis Drazin, counsel for the New Jersey THA, said horsemen and racetrack officials remain at odds over the 2002 Thoroughbred calendar. The sports authority, he said, asked horsemen to reduce the 120 days to 100, but horsemen continue to seek the 141 as stated in the 2001 law.

The NJSEA contends that, in light of a lost purse subsidy, the only way to maintain a healthy program at Monmouth is to trim dates. In recent press releases, the NJSEA has talked about the Monmouth meet but hasn't mentioned Meadowlands. A deal to run 100 days at Monmouth and scrap the Meadowlands meet apparently fell through.

Presumably to beef up purses at Monmouth given the lack of the subsidy this year, the commission in January allowed Atlantic City Race Course, now owned by Pennwood Racing, whose primary owners are based in Pennsylvania, to go from 10 live racing days to one and send its purse money to Monmouth.

Live racing at Garden State Park, which was leased by Pennwood, was lost when the track closed its doors at the end of May 2001. The track raced 13 Thoroughbred dates last year, but apparently no effort was made to find a home for those racing opportunities in 2002.