New Jersey Sen. Martha Bark, who was the co-sponsor of the bill that eventually was signed into law as the Off-Track and Phone Wagering Act, said she is "tremendously disappointed" that the state racing commission reduced the number of live Thoroughbred dates at Monmouth Park and Meadowlands this year from 141 as mandated in the law to 120.
"It's very disheartening," said Bark, who represents Atlantic, Burlington, and Camden counties. "It's a step backwards for the industry, in my opinion. Reducing live dates was not the intent of the legislature nor the people of this state."
Bark said the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates the two tracks, enjoyed a banner year in 2001 but used the profits to pay off some of its other expenses.
"The commission's actions could be very, very detrimental to the racing industry in many ways," she said. "This industry employs 40,000 people, so you're talking about a jobs issue now, as well as an open space issue."
In the wake of the racing commission's Jan. 30 decision, horsemen are standing firm in their desire for 141 dates and now have requested that all the dates be run at Monmouth because of chronic problems with the Meadowlands track surface.
"If you ask 90% of owners, trainers, jockeys, or backstretch workers in this state, they'd tell you that they would rather race exclusively at Monmouth Park," said Francis "Bud" Keegan, president of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "Last year, we saw more Thoroughbreds break down at Meadowlands than ever before, due to the surface of the track being too hard and sloped -- an embankment designed for Standardbred racing."
Keegan said horsemen had an agreement with the NJSEA to make the track more "Thoroughbred friendly," but the sports authority "refused to properly fix it."
Keegan alleged that Bruce Garland, senior vice president of racing for NJSEA, has "continually neglected Thoroughbred horsemen," and as such, "Thoroughbred horsemen need to be innovative and try new things in order to keep our industry alive."
In response, Garland said he is willing to sit down and talk with horseman about the possibility of running all dates at Monmouth, but said 141 dates, regardless of the location, was "too many to run, especially with the existing purse money available."
An expected $11.7-million purse supplement for the industry was trimmed to $3.9 million by outgoing acting Gov. Don DiFrancesco.
"Now that the New Jersey Racing Commission has made a final determination on the 2002 racing dates, I am confident that we can have another successful season," Garland said in a statement released Feb. 1. "Our goal is to offer purses similar to 2001 despite the reduced state purse supplement."