New Jersey Racing Schedule in Turmoil Again

A deal thought to have been struck between horsemen and racetrack management for 2002-2003 racing dates in the Garden State fell apart Dec. 20 during a sometimes-contentious New Jersey Racing Commission meeting.

The racing commission approved 141 Thoroughbred dates for Monmouth Park and Meadowlands, but specific dates won't be announced until the next meeting scheduled for Jan. 30. By law, 141 is the minimum number of dates that must be offered by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates the two tracks.

Dennis Drazin, legal counsel for the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said the main reason the deal collapsed was because the state's Standardbred horsemen wanted Monmouth Park's signal to be piped into Freehold Raceway, a harness track located about 17 miles from Monmouth. Historically, Freehold has been closed for live racing during most of Monmouth's summer meet, and does not import its signal as part of its simulcast menu.

"We feel there would be a sizable drain-off from Monmouth of bettors and money if we allowed them to take the signal," Drazin said.

The meeting, during which commissioners went into executive, or private, session twice, was punctuated by sharp comments from Bruce Garland, senior vice president for the NJSEA, and Hal Handel, whose Pennsylvania-based company Pennwood Racing owns Freehold Raceway.

"We should be in a position to move forward in this state, and instead the same litany of sick issues from the New Jersey THA the last three years is being repeated," Handel said. "We at Freehold were prepared to make 'no comment' on several additional live days at Monmouth, but we're opposed to it now.

"If this climate of pettiness doesn't change, there won't be a future OTB or phone system -- there may not be live racing in Monmouth County, period."

Garland reluctantly proposed two scenarios for 2002, one of which assumes a purse supplement from the state will be passed by legislators. At the November commission meeting, the NJSEA said it wanted to run 121 dates, which falls short of the 141-day minimum but would keep the quality of racing high.

Under the proposal, if the purse supplement is passed, Monmouth would open in late April and run 92 dates through Labor Day. Meadowlands would run 49 dates through Nov. 3. If the supplement isn't passed, the two tracks would run essentially the same dates, but Monmouth would pay out nearly $300,000 per day in purses, as it did this year, and Meadowlands daily purses would be cut substantially, down from the nearly $348,000 it paid this fall.

"This is so wrong; it will destroy Thoroughbred racing in the state," Garland said. "It just couldn't be a bigger mistake. We just concluded the best two meets in our history, and few people in here feel like celebrating."

Of the simulcasting issue, Garland said: "I think the Freehold issue is a red herring. You have 1,100 chair-dragging fans on a daily basis at Freehold who actually might be interested in wagering on Monmouth Park."