02/28/2012 2:33PM

New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority approves lease of Monmouth to horsemen


The board of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has given its preliminary approval to an agreement to lease Monmouth Park to the state’s horsemen group, but questions still surround whether the track will be able to fund stakes races this year.

The board issued its approval during a meeting Monday, according to John Samerjan, a spokesman for the authority. The deal still needs the signature of the authority’s president, Wayne Hasenbalg, along with the approval of the state’s governor, Chris Christie, and the New Jersey Racing Commission, but all are expected to sign off within the next several weeks, officials said.

The lease grants the horsemen the right to operate Monmouth Park for the next five years, with three 10-year options. Under the deal, horsemen will be responsible for all of the operating costs at Monmouth, and the authority will no longer contribute any funds to the purses for the track’s stakes races, including the $1 million Haskell, a prime late-summer target for many top 3-year-olds.

Dennis Drazin, general counsel to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said that horsemen were working on deals that would provide funding for the stakes. At the very least, Drazin said, the horsemen plan to stage the Haskell, but he could not commit to any other stakes at the track for 2012, citing uncertainty over how to raise the funds for the purses.

Although the stakes schedule remains in limbo, Drazin said that the horsemen expected to distribute approximately $400,000 a day in overnight purses over the course of a 50-day meet at Monmouth, with racing conducted three days a week from May 12 to Sept. 3. The lease agreement also gives horsemen the right to run six race dates at the Meadowlands in the spring and 14 dates at either Monmouth or the Meadowlands in the fall.

Horsemen began negotiating a deal to lease Monmouth after a lease agreement with New York real estate developer Morris Bailey collapsed late in 2011. Christie put Monmouth and the Meadowlands up for lease early in 2011, saying the state would no longer subsidize the authority’s racing operations.