Monmouth Park officials intend to continue their policy of prohibiting horses stabled there from shipping to compete at Suffolk Downs in Boston and then returning to the backside in New Jersey in 2018. This will be the third consecutive year the practice is in effect.
"The policy remains the same. If you ship a horse there, you cannot come back here with that horse," said Monmouth racing secretary John Heims.
The overnight sheets for the horsemen at Monmouth, which opened its season May 5, state that permission is required from the racing secretary prior to any horse being entered at other tracks, excluding stakes races.
"We have no comment," said Chip Tuttle, the CEO of Suffolk Downs, which opens its six-day meet June 9 and this week announced a purse increase on overnight races of 15% from the 2017 average daily distribution of just less than $500,000.
Last year officials of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which operates Monmouth under the aegis of Darby Development LLC, issued the ban on shippers to Suffolk, although Monmouth-based horsemen were allowed to request permission to compete in stakes events or races restricted to Massachusetts-breds.
That ban was similar to the one its officials instituted in August of 2016 against horsemen competing at Suffolk Downs for the final four days remaining in Suffolk's six-day meet. In that action a fine of $1,000 per horse was imposed on any horseman attempting to re-enter the stable area after shipping to Boston.
The move caused an acrimonious dispute between the New Jersey horsemen and Monmouth officials and the affected horsemen refused to pay the fines. An anonymous donor ended the standoff by writing a check for $60,000, with the stipulation that the money be donated to Second Call, the agency that administers New Jersey's Thoroughbred aftercare program.
In 2018 the points of contention remain the same. There is a shortage of race-ready horses and there can be no reciprocity, since there is no stabling or training available on the Suffolk Downs property. Therefore, there are no Suffolk-based horses available to ship to and support the cards at Monmouth.
Monmouth, which awaits the U.S. Supreme Court to render a decision on the sports betting case that would allow the expanded gambling on-site and has been tied up in the federal court system for almost 10 years, does not have the benefit of any revenue from New Jersey casinos. Moreover, the track is adversely affected by increased competition from the other tracks in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions that can offer purses fueled by expanded gaming profits.
Massachusetts' Race Horse Development Fund is supplied by a percentage of revenue from the state's slot machine facility and up to three future destination resort casinos. With the first of the state's already licensed two casinos set to come online this year, the RHDF account will swell sizably.
This year Suffolk will run the weekends of June 9-10, July 7-8, and Aug. 4-5 under the two-days racing festival format and there is the possibility of adding two additional days, pending approval from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
Suffolk is continuing its lucrative starter incentives for trainers at $400 per horse, and owners will be rewarded with $500 for horses finishing first through fifth on top of purse money. The owners of horses finishing sixth through last are to get a bonus of $1,500.
Purses for black-type stakes races at Suffolk are climbing from $75,000 to $100,000 in 2018. Stakes races restricted to either horses foaled in Massachusetts or sired by a Massachusetts-based stallion continue to offer a purse of $50,000.
Despite the ban on Monmouth-based horses, Suffolk officials expect to attract horses from other tracks, including those in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, and Ohio, and they anticipate the return of several trainers formerly based in New England who have relocated to other jurisdictions.