11/28/2007 1:00AM

Longer season, less money for Jersey racing

EmailTRENTON, N.J. - The 2007 New Jersey racing season was the most highly anticipated in recent memory, with the Breeders' Cup on the horizon and Monmouth Park in the final stages of a $30 million renovation.

Anticipation has given way to anxiety for 2008.

The four-year, $86 million purse supplement from the Atlantic City casinos that lifted Monmouth purses to a record $330,000 per day this year has run out. Dennis Dowd, senior vice president for Monmouth and the Meadowlands Racetrack, estimates that Thoroughbred purses would fall to $180,000 next year without subsidy support.

Against that gloomy backdrop, the New Jersey Racing Commission met Wednesday in Trenton, the state capital, to set the 2008 racing calendar.

A complicating factor was the requirement in the offtrack-betting and account-wagering legislation that Monmouth and the Meadowlands race a combined 141 days in 2008. That total was reduced to 120 during the four-year subsidy period.

Barring legislative relief from the dates requirement, or purse supports, the two tracks will run 21 more days next year for drastically less money.

"It makes for a terribly long racing season if we're forced to run that," Dowd said. "It's going to be a struggle."

The commission approved a 99-day Monmouth season running May 9 to Sept. 28. The major new wrinkle is the addition of Friday racing in May. In recent seasons, Monmouth raced only on Saturday and Sunday during the first month before starting a five-day schedule in June.

The Meadowlands will bear the brunt of the added days with a Monday-through-Saturday schedule from Oct. 1 to Nov. 15. As part of the 42-day meet, the Meadowlands will run on Tuesday afternoons, a Monmouth dark day, in September.

The commission devoted considerable time to Atlantic City Race Course's application for a six-day meet: April 23-25 and April 30-May 2.

Atlantic City has been running mini-meets since 1997 to maintain a license to conduct year-round simulcasting.

Mike Musto, executive director of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, opposed the Atlantic City request.

"Every year we come here and every year we're promised a longer meet the following year," Musto said.

The commission granted Atlantic City's request but attached stipulations, including a requirement the track run at least 20 days in 2009. The date award averted a shutdown of simulcasting at the track on Jan. 1.

The dates process would have been simpler if the tracks had a reliable revenue source, such as slot machines, to support purses. But efforts by New Jersey horsemen to get slots at the tracks have run into political resistance. At the same time, racing grows stronger in surrounding states as tracks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware have slots in place and purse money to lure horses and horsemen away from New Jersey.

Meanwhile, talks among the governor's office, legislative leaders, horsemen, and track officials have not yet produced a time frame or a budget line for a 2008 purse subsidy.