02/26/2010 12:00AM

Shortened Monmouth meet not a certainty


Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is pressing the horseracing industry to accept a deal that would call for a 50-day meet at Monmouth Park in Oceanport and eliminate Thoroughbred racing at the Meadowlands, according to an official with knowledge of the discussions.

Negotiations over the plan have been conducted since a report commissioned by Christie and released in January called for the 50-day Monmouth meet. Horsemen in the state have an agreement with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, a state agency that owns and operates Monmouth and the Meadowlands, for 141 live racing dates each year through 2016.

According to the New Jersey Star-Ledger, the plan would also entail an average daily purse distribution of $1 million a day at Monmouth, an amount that would lead the nation and almost certainly attract droves of horses from traditional top-flight summer meets held at Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course, and Churchill Downs. The 50-day meet would run from May 22 to Labor Day, according to the Star-Ledger report, with live racing on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, plus Monday holidays.

Although the Star-Ledger quoted two anonymous officials as saying that horsemen support the plan, another official with ties to New Jersey horsemen said that was not the case.

"This is something they are trying to shove down the industry's throat," the official said. "This would kill racing in New Jersey." The official said that Christie wants the industry to accept a one-year deal for the 50-day meet as an "experiment."

Micheal Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, said late on Friday that the governor would not comment on the report and said that Christie was waiting for the results of another study he had commissioned examining the gambling landscape in the state before making a decision.

"We will be looking at all of the options presented at that time," Drewniak said.

Monmouth Park had an average daily purse distribution last year of $330,000. Horsemen fear that New Jersey-based trainer and horses would be pushed out of the state if the track offers $1 million a day. In 2009, Saratoga Race Course had the highest average purse distribution, at $723,965 a day for 36 days, according to Equibase.

The report commissioned by Gov. Christie claimed that horseracing operations at the NJSEA lost $13 million in 2009. It has been widely but incorrectly reported that the racing operations lost $22 million, but those claims have ignored a separate portion of Christie's report that said that net revenue from simulcasting operations were $9 million.

At the time the report was released, Dennis Drazin, the former president of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said that horsemen and management of the NJSEA had discussed the possibility of a 50-day meet, but that horsemen would not support the plan unless the state could guarantee that purses would be $1 million a day. According to Drazin, the state had balked at providing that guarantee.

Drazin and representatives of the NJSEA did not return phone calls placed on Thursday afternoon. Mike Musto, the executive director of the NJTHA, declined to comment, referring question to the horsemen's president, John Forbes, who did not immediately return a phone call on Friday.

The Star-Ledger report said that an announcement about the meet would take place next week.