04/20/2008 11:00PM

Not all revel in six-day mini-meet on turf


The oddity that is the six-day meet at Atlantic City Race Course begins on Wednesday with a six-race card of turf races.

Atlantic City will card six races a day, all on turf, for five other days, with live racing April 23-25 and April 30-May 2. The only people who will be able to bet on the races are those who are on the grounds. And there's no stabling at the track other than a receiving barn.

The highlight of the meet will be the $50,000 Tony Gatto Dream Big Stakes, the closing-day feature at five furlongs.

It is tempting to compare the all-turf meet - which typically draws full fields - to one of those quaint fair meets tucked into some hollow in the Irish countryside, but even those racetracks send their signals to bookmakers in the city. And to officials of the New Jersey Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, the word "quaint" doesn't come to mind when talking about Atlantic City.

"It's a sham meet," said Dennis Drazin, the president of the horsemen's group.

Atlantic City is owned by Greenwood Racing, the owner of Philadelphia Park in Pennsylvania. Since Greenwood purchased the ailing track in 2001, Atlantic City has been holding short meets, principally as a way to keep the track's simulcasting license, which allows the facility to remain open year-round as an offtrack betting location.

With the recent legalization of in-home betting in New Jersey and the opening of a Greenwood OTB in nearby Vineland, however, the future of the track is being openly questioned by horsemen.

According to Drazin, those questions remain unanswered after a meeting with Greenwood officials several weeks ago.

"We didn't get a clear answer, but it doesn't appear as if there is a whole lot of interest in keeping the racetrack open," Drazin said.

Drazin said that he believes the track continues to card races because it allows Greenwood to save $1.5 million in purse payments because racetracks qualify for a lower purse-contribution rate from simulcasting wagers than pure OTBs.

Greenwood officials did not return phone calls on Monday. In early April, Greenwood's chief executive, Joe Wilson, released a statement to the Blood-Horse magazine that said the company "is committed to offering live racing in the future at our track," provided that the track receives a subsidy from a $30 million annual payment that casinos in the state will make to the New Jersey racing industry each of the next three years.

The New Jersey Racing Commission told Greenwood last year that Atlantic City would need to run 20 days in 2008 in order to be granted a racing license. However, the commission dropped the requirement when Atlantic City asked for dates, but it reiterated the demand for 2009.

The New Jersey horsemen's group sued the commission over the award, and the group is now waiting for a hearing in the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court on the issue. According to Drazin, the hearing could be held before the end of April.

Frank Zanzuccki, the executive director of the New Jersey Racing Commission, said Monday that the commission awarded the 2008 dates because of concerns over the loss of jobs and purse revenues generated by the facility. In addition, Zanzuccki said the commission was willing to let Atlantic City remain open for an abbreviated meet because of uncertainty late last year about whether a purse subsidy would be negotiated with the Atlantic City casinos.