Updated on 09/17/2011 10:59AM

Trainers vote against cut in race dates

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - The board of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association voted Wednesday evening to maintain the current schedule for the balance of the 2003 season, rejecting a proposed reduction in racing dates.

It was not a decision reached in haste.

The board held a special meeting that lasted almost three hours and was attended by approximately 50 horsemen. After a lengthy discussion with extensive input from the attending horsemen, the board refused to consider a schedule reduction to prop up purses in the period after Labor Day.

The choice was stark: accept sharply reduced purses or cut the schedule to maintain purse levels.

Alan Seewald was one of the trainers arguing in favor of the dates reduction.

"Purses have to stay at certain levels," Seewald said. "If you drop down to Penn National or Philadelphia Park levels, you kill New Jersey racing."

Preservation of dates is a vital concern to Chuck Spina, whose stable is loaded with New Jersey-breds.

"Fifteen years ago, we had 340 racing dates in the state," Spina said. "We can't afford to give up any more days in this state, especially smaller guys who have all Jersey-breds like me."

The horsemen's decision disappointed Bob Kulina, vice president of Monmouth.

"I always believe you should always emphasize quality," Kulina said. "I'm in favor of anything that allows us to pay higher purses, and I think the public demands quality racing.

"If the only way to do that is to reduce the number of events, I'm in favor of that."

The horsemen's board directed Dennis Drazin, its legislative council, to negotiate with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority for the best purse structure possible without trimming the schedule.

The NJSEA, which owns Monmouth and The Meadowlands racetrack, guaranteed purses at $300,000 per day for the traditional "core" Monmouth meet from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.

Monmouth will extend the season this year to Sept. 28, and current authority projections have purses falling to $150,000 in that period, with similar payouts for The Meadowlands meet from Oct. 1 to Nov 8.

In discussions between management and Drazin, the concept emerged to trim Monmouth in September from five days to three and the Meadowlands from five days to four in order to bolster purses.

Drazin will return to the negotiating table with a counter proposal: shift the entire Meadowlands meet to Monmouth.

Drazin pointed out the savings that would result from not having to convert the Meadowlands surface from a Standardbred track to one for Thoroughbred racing and back again, "and all the money spent on shipping horses up there."

Drazin will also advocate shifting a portion of the $1.3 million allocated for Meadowlands stakes into overnight purses.

With the various savings, Drazin projects purses could stabilize at $250,000 for the post-Labor Day period.