05/13/2011 8:46AM

Monmouth Park, Meadowlands lease arrangements finalized

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Barbara D. Livingston
The Monmouth Park season which opens Saturday is likely to be shorter and offer higher purses than originally planned.

Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands will have new operators on June 1.

Agreements were hammered out late Thursday night at the end of a day-long negotiation session in Trenton, N.J. to privatize the two tracks.
For the first time since 1976, the state of New Jersey will not be in the racetrack business. Under lease agreements reached after marathon talks involving the new lessees, the associations representing the state’s Thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen, and the governor’s office, Morris Bailey will take over Monmouth and Jeff Gural will run the Meadowlands. The state will continue to own the land and facilities.

Bailey and Gural are long-time horse owners and real estate executives with ties to the casino industry. Bailey is the co-owner of Resorts International casino in Atlantic City. Gural owns two Standardbred racinos in upstate New York: Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs.

The agreements part the clouds hanging over New Jersey racing since last year when Gov. Chris Christie appointed a panel to study the future of gaming in the state. The group recommended the state take measures to protect the Atlantic City casinos while shedding the money-losing racetracks.

Christie embraced the report, setting in motion the events that culminated Thursday night with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority divesting itself of the two tracks.

“I was determined to bring this deal home,” Christie said in the statement released announcing the deal. “There are many beneficiaries: We’re saving a New Jersey tradition with the continuation of live horse racing at the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park; we are saving and creating jobs; and we are helping to preserve New Jersey farmland and a way of life for many people, from horse farm owners and employees, to jockeys, to racing enthusiasts. I want to thank all involved, from staff in the Governor’s Counsel’s Office, to the executive staff of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, to Mr. Gural and Mr. Bailey, as well as representatives of the Thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen.”

While Gural has negotiated substantial reductions with the unions at the Meadowlands, Bailey is expected to seek similar concessions at Monmouth.
The most pressing issue that still needs to be resolved centers on the division of breed-to-breed simulcast revenues. However, enough progress was made by Thursday night for the governor to announce the deal.

“I’m excited by the fact that we are completing a transaction that will bring about a new era for horse racing in New Jersey and Monmouth Park,” Bailey said. “I want to thank all of the parties involved, especially Governor Christie and his staff and the Thoroughbred horsemen, for working so diligently to meet the challenges we confronted. With what we are accomplishing, we are creating one of the premiere race tracks in the country that will provide an attractive and exciting atmosphere to appeal to established horse racing fans and, I believe, the broader public.”

Greg Sacco trains for Bailey.

“He’s a no-nonsense type of guy,” Sacco said. “Being a horse owner himself, and being passionate about the business, I truly felt he would iron something out.

“Moving forward, I think he’ll have a great impact on the future of racing in New Jersey. I think he knows what it will take to turn New Jersey racing around. I think he’ll put the right people in place and I think we’re headed into a new chapter at Monmouth Park.”

Monmouth is now expected to announce a firm schedule for the meet that begins Saturday. The NJSEA was committed to run the track only through June 12. The governor’s statement said “the Thoroughbreds will also run a reduced slate of racing days for 2011, similar to the 2010 racing schedule.”

That would translate into a three-day schedule of Friday through Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In the fall, the track would race on Saturday and Sunday.

Bailey also gets the successful off-track wagering outlet in Woodbridge, N.J. Bailey and Gural will work together to roll out additional OTWs across the state.