02/07/2002 1:00AM

New Jersey Horsemen file lawsuit


New Jersey horsemen have challenged the state racing commission's decision last week to approve a 121-day racing schedule, calling the allotment a violation of state law in a suit filed late last week in state superior court.

The lawsuit underlines the increasingly fractious relationship between the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the state's racetracks and regulators. The dispute threatens to deprive New Jersey racing fans of simulcasting beginning as early as May, when the Triple Crown races start.

Horsemen were infuriated last week when the commission approved 121 live racing dates, well short of the 141-date requirement for the state's racetracks to launch an offtrack betting and telephone-wagering system. The decision was supported by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which will run 120 of the dates at its Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands. Atlantic City will run the other live date.

Frank Zanzuccki, the commission's executive director, said on Thursday that the state attorney general's office is preparing a response to the horsemen's lawsuit. A summary motion requested by the horsemen is scheduled to be heard on Feb. 25 in the appellate division of the New Jersey State Superior Court.

Zanzuccki defended the commission's decision, calling it "in the best interests of New Jersey racing" because it would allow Monmouth and The Meadowlands to distribute more than $300,000 a day in purses, he said.

Zanzuccki also said in an earlier interview that regulators were concerned the racing product would suffer this year because horsemen are not expected to receive a $11.7 million purse supplement from the state, as they did last year.

The legal counsel for the horsemen, Dennis Drazin, said Wednesday night that they plan to file another lawsuit within the next three weeks challenging the constitutionality of a 1990 state law that allows for full-card simulcasting. If successful, the lawsuit would prevent any out-of-state simulcasts from being broadcast in the state, Drazin said.

Drazin said the horsemen want the law declared unconstitutional to force the legislature to pass a new simulcasting law, one in which revenues from simulcasting are divided based on handle by breed. Simulcasting revenues are currently divided 65-35 in favor of Thoroughbreds, although handle in the state in 2001 was split 86-14 in favor of Thoroughbreds.

"If we got those percentages," Drazin said, "we wouldn't need to get a purse supplement from the state to keep our purses up." Drazin called the current splits a "subsidy" to harness horsemen.

If an agreement is not reached between horsemen and the tracks on racing dates, Drazin said, the horsemen plan to block Monmouth Park from sending its signal out of state when the track's meet begins in May.