12/12/2011 5:17PM

Developer walks away from Monmouth Park lease deal


The New York real estate developer who operated Monmouth Park this summer under a tentative lease with the state has abandoned talks over a final deal after the negotiations collapsed last week, according to a representative of the state’s horsemen.

Morris Bailey, a Thoroughbred owner and breeder, told Gov. Chris Christie’s office that he was no longer interested in leasing the track after the state rejected a deal that would have assigned the lease to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, according to NJTHA president John Forbes. Those talks on a new deal are now at a complete standstill, Forbes said, and the future of Monmouth is uncertain.

“I would say that the prospect of racing at Monmouth Park in 2012 is grim,” Forbes said.

Monmouth is owned by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, a state agency. Without a lease deal in place, the state could continue to operate Monmouth, place the track up for a second round of bidding, or shutter it.

During his gubernatorial campaign in 2010, Christie was highly critical of the financial performance of the racing operations of the NJSEA, which also owns the Meadowlands racetrack. Although his office declined to comment Monday on the status of the negotiations, Christie blamed horsemen for the collapse of the talks during a press conference Monday, contending that the NJTHA had asked the state to provide $5 million in purse subsidies.

“I simply am no longer going to permit millionaire horsemen to take money from waiters and waitresses and police officers and teachers who are the taxpayers in this state to fund their industry,” Christie said, according to a transcript provided by his office. Also during the press conference, Christie said that Bailey had backed out.

Christie also said that the state is willing to accept a new deal on the lease, but only if the state is not on the hook for any losses at the track.

“I am prepared as I always have been to reach reasonable and equitable compromise to keep the racing industry working and vibrant in New Jersey in private hands,” Christie said.

Bailey’s attorney, Richard Riccio, did not return a phone call Monday.

Forbes said that the horsemen offered to operate the lease under the same terms as Bailey. He said the horsemen had received a commitment for financial support for the operation of the lease, but he would not identify the party that would provide the funding.