10/06/2017 11:15AM

Longtime Monmouth Park executive Robert Kulina to retire

Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Bob Kulina, 68, has worked at Monmouth Park since 1977.

Robert Kulina, the longtime racing executive who has spent nearly the entirety of his professional career at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, will retire at the end of this year, Kulina said on Friday.

Kulina, who just turned 68, was named racing secretary at Monmouth in 1977, at the age of 27, after serving in various roles at other tracks. He was promoted to general manager of the track in 1991, and over the next 25 years spurred the development of the track’s Haskell Invitational Stakes into one of the most significant 3-year-old stakes on the racing calendar and oversaw the first two-day Breeders’ Cup event when it was held at the track in 2007.

“It’s a little scary,” Kulina said, about his pending retirement. “But I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, and it’s time. You need at some time to hand it over to the next generation.”

Kulina was widely respected among both racing executives and horsemen. He said that he plans to spend more time with his wife, Sue, and his children and grandchildren in retirement, but he also said that he expects to “be involved in racing” in some capacity in the future.

Kulina said he was most proud of the development of the Haskell, which is named for a former chairman and president of Monmouth. First run in 1968 for older horses, the race was changed into an invitational stakes for 3-year-olds in 1981, and in 1997 its purse was increased to $1 million.

During Kulina’s tenure as general manager, nine 3-year-olds, including two fillies, won the Haskell and were subsequently named champion of their division. Four of those horses were also named Horse of the Year, including the 2015 winner, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, who attracted a record crowd of 60,983 to Monmouth.

Kulina said the emergence of the Haskell played a vital role in Monmouth’s bid to host the Breeders’ Cup in 2007.

“We wouldn’t have gotten the Breeders’ Cup if we hadn’t proved we could handle a big day,” Kulina said.  

Kulina also said he was proud of the number of high-profile individuals who had worked at Monmouth over the years that he oversaw the track, including Jim Gagliano, now the president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club; Hal Handel, a respected racetrack manager who ended his career at the New York Racing Association as its chief operating officer; and Lou Raffetto, who has held top positions at tracks across the country.

At the same time, he said that he was also proud of the management put in place at Monmouth Park since the operations of the track were taken over by the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association in 2012.

“The one thing that is certain is that Monmouth Park will always be the cornerstone of my life,” Kulina said.