05/02/2012 2:34PM

Meadowlands: Thoroughbreds return for two-day stint


Thoroughbred racing will return for the first time in three years to the Meadowlands on Friday, when the New Jersey track will host the first of two consecutive mixed cards of Thoroughbred racing and harness racing.

The mixed cards are being viewed as an experiment by the operator of the Meadowlands, Jeff Gural, who signed a long-term lease of the Meadowlands last year. The cards will be run on the same days as the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby, two of the most popular days on the Thoroughbred racing calendar.

“We thought we’d try something different, and the Thoroughbred horsemen wanted to give it a try,” said Gural on Wednesday. “It should spice things up, and hopefully it will get some more people to come out.”

Four races for Thoroughbreds, all on the turf, will be offered each day, with first post on each day at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. Both cards will be followed by a full card of harness racing, beginning at 7 p.m.

Including also-eligibles, 46 horses were entered for the four races on Friday, and 40 were entered for the four races on Saturday. Both cards are capped by $50,000, five-furlong stakes races for New Jersey-bred horses.

The split card is part of an agreement reached earlier this year between Gural and the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which will operate Monmouth Park this year under a long-term lease with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

Under the deal with Gural, all betting revenue for the eight Thoroughbred races will be retained by the Thoroughbred horsemen. Revenue from incoming simulcasts, including the Oaks and Derby, will be retained by the harness track, though the Thoroughbred horsemen may receive some additional payment if the track’s overall revenue for the two days exceed a certain level under what Gural called a “handshake agreement.”

The Meadowlands, which used to run approximately seven weeks of both dirt and turf Thoroughbred racing in the fall of each year, has not had a Thoroughbred meet since 2009.

When the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association negotiated their lease earlier this year, horsemen’s officials said they would seek six dates at the Meadowlands in the spring and as many as 15 dates in the fall. Only the May 4-5 dates, however, have been scheduled for the spring, and Thoroughbred dates have yet to be added to the Meadowlands calendar for the fall. Gural said the Thoroughbred horsemen still retain the right to add the 15 fall dates, but their decision may depend on how the Monmouth Park meet performs.

Officials of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association did not return phone calls on Wednesday.