12/20/2011 11:45AM

Monmouth Park deal reached by deadline


The state of New Jersey and its horsemen reached an agreement late on Monday night to keep Monmouth Park open next year, just meeting a deadline imposed by Gov. Chris Christie.

Under the deal, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the state agency that owns Monmouth, will apply for 141 Thoroughbred dates in 2012, running from May 12 to Nov. 25, with five days of racing per week. At that schedule, horsemen will run for average daily purses of approximately $150,000 to $175,000 a day, roughly half what was offered this year during a 71-day meet.

Also under the deal, the state will solicit bidders early next year to lease Monmouth Park, using as a blueprint a deal with New York real estate developer Morris Bailey that collapsed in early December. The state’s request for proposals will ask bidders to run approximately 70 days a year and guarantee average daily purse distribution of $400,000 a day for five years.

The last-minute collapse of the Bailey deal required the state to explore other options for Monmouth in 2012. Gov. Christie, who has aggressively pushed for the state to get out of the racing business, had set a deadline of Monday for the state’s horsemen to agree to a new deal to keep the track open next year.

Dennis Drazin, the legal counsel to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said that horsemen may be willing to pare the live racing schedule next year but that they were required to agree to the 141-day schedule because of a state law that mandates a minimum of 141 live Thoroughbred dates. Horsemen have waived that requirement over the past two years.

“The horsemen have always been dedicated to putting on a quality meet, so we’re open to discussions,” Drazin said. “But right now, one step at a time.”

The state has estimated that revenue generated by handle on Monmouth races and by simulcasting will provide for $23 million in total purses. That amount, however, does not include any money for stakes races, including the $1 million Haskell Invitational Stakes, a major late-summer race for 3-year-olds that annually attracts crowds in excess of 30,000 to the seashore track.

Funding for a stakes program would need to be approved by the sports authority, which has lost millions of dollars over the past several years on the racing operations at Monmouth and the Meadowlands, a harness track it also owns and plans to lease to developer Jeff Gural.