03/10/2011 4:00PM

Monmouth Park attracts interest from eight potential lesees

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Barbara D. Livingston
Eight prospective lessees of Monmouth Park were on hand Thursday in the hopes of becoming the new operator of the track.

The representatives of eight prospective lessees of Monmouth Park were on hand Thursday to submit $25,000 deposit checks in the hopes of becoming the new operator of the Oceanport, N.J., track.

The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority is taking applications on a five-year lease for Monmouth in response to Gov. Chris Christie’s directive for the state to get out of the horse racing business and eliminate state subsidies for the industry. The lease includes an off-track wagering facility in Woodbridge, licenses to build four more off-track facilities, and a 50-percent share in the Sports Authority’s share from on-line and telephone wagering.

“This shows there are a lot of high-end people interested in operating Monmouth Park as a racetrack, not a slots track,” said Bob Kulina, longtime general manager at Monmouth. “I think it’s fair to say that whoever negotiates the winning deal has Thoroughbred racing interests.”

Monmouth announced that the following paid the refundable $25,000 at the mandatory meeting: BetFair, the owner of Television Games Network; Ocala Meadows, headed by Frank Stronach of MI Developments; Greenwood Racing, owners of Parx Racing, Atlantic City Race Course and a half-owner of the Freehold harness track; John Brunetti, owner of Hialeah Park and a former Monmouth Park shareholder before the track was purchased by the state in 1986; Mike Musto, representing the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association; The Angelo Gordon Co. investment group; Morris Bailey, the owner of Resorts casino in Atlantci City and a horse breeder and owner; and Bernard Dowd, a local businessman, horse breeder, and owner.

Monmouth Park ran a 50-day Elite Meet last year, with purses averaging about $1 million per day, thanks to a subsidy from the state’s casino interests which has now expired. The Elite Meet was followed by a 21-day meet which offered a lower purse structure. Monmouth has been approved to hold a 141-day meet this year, even though that figure could be reduced. Kulina said Thursday he expects purses will average less than $200,000 per card this year if the track were to race all 141 days.

Other parties that attended the conference but didn’t submit the $25,000 fee can still do so before a March 31 deadline. The new lessee is expected to be revealed shortly thereafter with the lease scheduled to go into effect June 1.