03/30/2005 1:00AM

New Jersey groups settle dispute before BC deadline


New Jersey's horsemen and the state's racing commission have settled a dispute that threatened to cost Monmouth Park the 2007 Breeders' Cup, the general counsel to the horsemen's group, Dennis Drazin, said Wednesday.

The settlement, which Drazin said will be submitted to New Jersey Superior Court for approval on Thursday, will bring to a close a long-simmering political dispute between the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the New Jersey Racing Commission. Last week, Breeders' Cup officials told state racing officials that the Breeders' Cup would be pulled from Monmouth Park if the dispute were not settled by April 9.

"The most important thing to the horsemen was getting the Breeders' Cup," Drazin said. "We thought it would be very silly for this dispute to cost us that event."

Frank Zanzuccki, the executive director of the New Jersey Racing Commission, said Wednesday that he could not comment on any part of the settlement.

Jim Gluckson, a spokesman for Breeders' Cup Ltd., said that Drazin had informed Breeders' Cup officials about the possible settlement on Tuesday night. He said Breeders' Cup officials believed that the settlement would satisfy the organization's concerns, but cautioned that follow-up conversations with the horsemen and racing commission would be necessary.

"We think the settlement is certainly good news, but we have to wait for the formalization of the settlement before we go forward," Gluckson said.

The racing commission and the horsemen's association have been at odds for several years over how the association spends its funds, which are principally raised from handle. The commission has contended that the horsemen's association has spent far too much on political actions and legal fees, while the horsemen's association has said that its lobbying and political expenses are legitimate.

The commission sued the horsemen's group last year, but the two sides had been attempting to work out a settlement through New Jersey Superior Court Judge Alexander Lehrer. Last week, the negotiations broke down, and Lehrer set a trial date for Oct. 24, triggering the Breeders' Cup deadline.

According to Drazin, the settlement will not restrict how the horsemen's association spends its funds in the future. Also as part of the settlement, five of the association's eight board members have agreed that they will not run for re-election.

Monmouth Park is owned and operated by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, a state agency. Officials for the authority had lobbied intensely over the past several years to pitch Monmouth Park to the Breeders' Cup, and last year, the two groups signed a memorandum of understanding designating Monmouth as the host site in 2007. The memorandum contained language that made the deal contingent on improved relations between the commission and the horsemen's group.

Drazin said that New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey, a horse racing supporter, intervened this week in the dispute, appearing before the commission to urge a settlement.