Updated on 04/12/2011 5:17PM

Monmouth Park lease under negotiation

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Monmouth Park lost $6 million at the 2010 meet, according to New Jersey state figures.

The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has begun negotiations with Morris Bailey, a horse owner and real-estate developer, on a five-year operating lease of Monmouth Park, the authority announced late on Monday.

Negotiations on the lease are expected to last until at least June 1, a target date set by the state-owned authority. Monmouth is scheduled to open on May 14, but the authority will continue to operate the track if negotiations have not come to a close by that time. The terms of the lease are expected to include commitments to live racing dates and anticipated purse levels, items that will need the approval of horsemen.

Bailey, 72, is a longtime owner and breeder in New Jersey who made his fortune in real-estate development in New York. He was one of three bidders who submitted proposals last month to lease Monmouth, which typically operates from late spring to late fall each year.

Bailey did not return a phone call on Tuesday.

John Forbes, the president of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said on Tuesday that the association had endorsed Bailey to the authority despite submitting its own bid to lease the track. However, he said that the association had not discussed specifics about racing dates with Bailey yet.

"Nobody's gotten that far yet," Forbes said. "But we wholly support Mr. Bailey. We think he's the right man for the job."

Monmouth Park cut its racing dates in half last year and poured a $19 million subsidy from Atlantic City casinos into a 50-day race meet, leading to dramatic gains in handle and attendance. However, the contract providing for the subsidy expired, and, according to the state, Monmouth lost $6 million last year, complicating the discussions over the length of the live race meet this year.

"I think everyone agrees that what we did last year was successful," Forbes said. "The question is, What do you do now that we don't have that [subsidy]? The difficult part is going to be finding a suitable purse level that would encourage us to reduce dates again."

Monmouth has been awarded 141 live race dates this year, the minimum required by law. However, the dates application can be amended provided that the operator and the horsemen agree.

The track has already released its first condition book, and purses for races are lower by approximately 40 percent compared to the subsidy-inflated purses at last year's abbreviated meet. Maiden special weight purses, for example, were $75,000 last year; in this year's condition book, the purse is $45,000.