01/31/2002 1:00AM

New plan: Drop Meadowlands

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New Jersey horsemen are willing to drop the Thoroughbred meet at The Meadowlands this year to race 141 days at Monmouth Park, horsemen's officials said Thursday.

The statement came one day after the New Jersey Racing Commission approved 121 days of live racing in 2002, beginning in May. The commission approved 76 days at Monmouth Park, 44 at The Meadowlands, and one at Atlantic City.

The schedule fell well short of a 141-day requirement included in legislation passed last year, infuriating horsemen. Because of the shortfall, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the owner of Monmouth and The Meadowlands, will not be able to launch offtrack and phone wagering this year.

Francis X. Keegan, president of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said his organization supported dropping the Meadowlands meet because the plan would save the authority money and allow the Monmouth meet to be extended.

Bruce Garland, the authority's vice president for racing, said that horsemen had not yet contacted him about the plan. "It has some plusses and it has some minuses," he said Thursday. "We'd be open to discuss it with them."

The horsemen's association is threatening to withhold its permission for the authority to accept simulcast wagers in light of the schedule.

Citing concerns over purse levels after a state purse supplement was cut from $18 million to $6 million this year, Frank Zanzuccki, the director of the commission, defended the regulators' decision on Thursday.

"We didn't want racing to deteriorate to the point where the racing fan lost all interest," Zanzuccki said.

"We're disappointed as well. The commission felt it had to make a tough call."