A special edition of Harness Racing Update, discussing the current situation in New Jersey has been published and finally, what harness racing will look like in New Jersey is becoming clearer. There will be less racing opportunities at the Meadowlands and Freehold so the pain will be felt by the lower and higher caliber horses alike. At least for the lower caliber horses, the purses are expected to remain similar to this year's purses at Freehold but for the higher caliber horses at the Meadowlands, the potential of a purse cut despite less days of racing is a real possibility.
The standardbred racing plan calls for 100 days of racing at the Meadowlands. The winter meet is expected to be four months long with racing occurring three days a week. Racing at the Meadowlands will then take a break and when it returns the schedule for the balance of the year will be two days (Friday and Saturdays plus holidays) is anticipated. Freehold will also race 100 days, an even greater reduction of days than the Meadowlands. While there will be some overlap of racing dates, the intention is to have each track race most of their days while the other track is dark.
As for purses, Freehold is anticipating being able to keep purse levels close to this year's; anticipating a daily purse distribution of $40-45,000 a day. The Meadowlands is another story. Without any subsidy from the state, it is anticipated the daily purse distribution for non-stake days will be about $135,000 a night; down from the $170,000 a night level in 2010. With a subsidy from the state, ,the hope is the nightly purse distribution would be a whopping $320,000.
While the SBOANJ and others are optimistic that Christie will relent and give harness racing a bridge subsidy until the 'reforms' are implemented, I am not that optimistic. If I had to bet, I would suspect Christie will continue his hard line stance with regards to subsidies. Politically, it makes sense for Christie to stand firm. First of all, unless you are a teacher, state worker, or a person who has suffered from a program cut, most voters are in favor of his cutting of state spending and will continue to support his fiscal conservatism for the foreseeable future. In addition, Christie's wielding of the budget axe has made him a star in the national Republican party and if he has any plans of seeking higher office in the future (which some political insiders expect he will), adhering to his fiscal conservatism policies will benefit him. So while the Democrats may be willing to offer a subsidy, the Governor has the veto pen.
Update: Governor Christie is expected to officially cancel the ARC project (a project to build a new rail tunnel to NYC) citing the fact New Jersey would be responsible for any cost overruns. This despite the Federal Government and the Port Authority of NY/NJ putting up a combined $6 billion dollars for the project. Does this sound like a person who is going to allow state funds to be used for purse supplements for standardbred and thoroughbred racing?
If no subsidy comes to fruition, the Meadowlands meet will be a disaster. At a $170,000 a night, you saw how the Meadowlands was racing with short fields and even carding $7,500 claimers at times this past year. At a $135,000 a night, expect even fewer horses entering races and possibly $6,000 claimers gracing the Meadowlands oval.
While the plans are to enhance the New Jersey Sires Stakes program, horsemen who have lower to mid-level overnight horses will have a hard time getting in to race in New York and Delaware. Delaware has its policies to keep out of state owners with lower class horses out of Delaware and with New York's new ability to write races restricted to horses that have raced 75% of their recent starts in New York, it will be harder to get into the entry box in New York until a horse has made six starts in New York and even then, expect horses that race in the lower classes to have a hard time getting in to race as the entry box will be overflowing. Also, if the NYCOTB reorganization is approved, Monticello Raceway may be closed in the winter months, making it even harder to get race in New York.
Of course, expect reforms to allow additional OTWs to finally be built, exchange wagering to make its appearance, and it appears Instant Racing (pari-mutuel wagering on previously run races) may make its debut in New Jersey. However, any real benefit from these income generators will likely not make a significant difference to purses until 2012 at the earliest.
While things may not be pretty next year, it buys racing some time. More importantly, it keeps racing around until the next Gubernatorial election and the possibility of new Governor who may be more sympathetic to racing if Christie's fortunes change. Even more importantly, by keeps racing in the Meadowlands racing will have to be cut in for a share of the casino profit when it becomes obvious that the hoped for revival of Atlantic City's fortunes is not going to materialize and a casino comes to the Meadowlands.
One thing for sure, things are going to be very interesting in New Jersey.