Representatives from every sector of New Jersey's horse industry, as well as politicians from nearly every portion of the state, came together Wednesday to explore issues and help find solutions for the future of the industry during the first "New Jersey Horse Industry Symposium" at Monmouth Park.
Created by the New Jersey Horse Industry Alliance - a coalition comprised of the Thoroughbred Breeders' Association of New Jersey, the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the Standardbred Breeders' and Owners Association of N. J., and the Equine Science Center at Rutgers University - the symposium began a dialogue focusing on the scope of the horse industry and its impact on the state's economy, agriculture, and the preservation of open space.
Of prime concerns to the racing industry are the expiration of the purse supplement now funded by the Atlantic City casinos after the 2007 season, the threat to New Jersey racing by neighboring states that will soon have purses fueled by slot machine revenue, and the importance of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, which Monmouth Park will host for the first time in 2007.
"When slot machines come to Pennsylvania and VLT's come to Aqueduct and Yonkers in New York, we'll be in very serious trouble," said Dennis Dowd, senior vice president of racing for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns and operates Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands.
"There's also a saturation of racing dates around us, and the consolidation of racetracks by companies like Churchill Downs and Magna Entertainment places a heavy burden on us to sell our product. The cost of our racing operations is rapidly escalating, directly related to the higher gasoline prices, and quite frankly we haven't had a good year."
Dowd said that, on the positive side, the Meadowlands continues to present the finest harness racing in the world and the building itself brings in the most handle, both live and simulcast, in the country.
"There's a question as to whether we'll race Thoroughbreds at the Meadowlands beyond 2007," said Dowd. "Senator Richard Codey wants us to keep Thoroughbred racing there, but we have to see if we can make it work."
The more than 200 participants at the symposium included representatives from the N. J. Equine Advisory Board, N. J. Horse Council, N. J. Association of Equine Practitioners, Breeders' Cup Ltd., and the U. S. Equestrian Federation.
Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of the NTRA and Breeders' Cup Ltd., said that he expects the economic impact of the Breeders' Cup on New Jersey to be in excess of $50 million, while Jerry Zaro, commissioner with the NJSEA, said the benefits of hosting the Breeders' Cup will have a lasting impact on Monmouth Park.
"We have $30 million earmarked for capital improvements to Monmouth," said Zaro. "When the meeting ends (on Sunday), there'll be portions demolished and restored, and we've issued a new commitment to preserve and enhance racing at both tracks. The Breeders' Cup isn't a big deal – it's a huge deal."
Among those speaking at the symposium were N.J. Agriculture Secretary Charles Kuperus, Commerce Secretary Virginia Bauer, Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, and General Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts.