We need to provide enough racing dates in the state of New Jersey to allow the state's breeding program to remain relevant as well as provide racing opportunities which make the product attractive for export. This means providing enough racing dates to ensure sufficient racing dates for the New Jersey sired and bred horses of all levels, yet provide ample non-restricted racing opportunities. This involves coordinating racing schedules at the Meadowlands and Freehold, plus re-introducing a fair circuit.
In my vision, the New Jersey standardbred calendar would look like this:
- Freehold Raceway - March thru May (48 days); September thru November (36 days)
- Meadowlands - Last week of May thru first week of September (50 days), October (8 days)
- New Jersey Fair Circuit - July thru August (more about this later)
However, with reduced racing opportunities, something needs to be done to help encourage interest in New Jersey sired and bred horses. This would be accomplished by replacing the New Jersey Sire Stakes (NJSS) with a new program, the New Jersey Sired and Foaled Stakes (NJSF) which would be open to horses sired by New Jersey resident stallions and horses foaled in the state. Why should the NJSS be replaced? With the increased use of semen transport, many of the mares who breed to New Jersey sired horses never step foot in the state. By opening the program to horses foaled in state, it will actually stimulate business at New Jersey standardbred farms by encouraging broodmares to make New Jersey their home.
The NJSF would have three levels; gold, silver, and bronze with events for two and three year olds as well as aged horses. Gold events would be held at the Meadowlands, while silver events would be conducted at Freehold Raceway. The New Jersey fair circuit would be resurrected for the NJSF Bronze divisions. The fair circuit races would be non-wagering events which would be conducted at training farms and at the Meadowlands and Freehold. Why bring back a fair circuit which was eliminated due to expense? A fair circuit would provide the means to expose harness racing to a new generation in a non-threatening manner such as done at Goshen and encourage interest in New Jersey yearlings as it would provide an opportunity for owners of not ready for prime time horses to recoup some of their expenses.
No, it is not the 142 days the Meadowlands and the 168 days Freehold is racing in 2010, but without a subsidy, there is no way the purse account can support these many days. By racing a calendar similar to the one proposed here, horsemen will be racing for meaningful purses and offering a product worth wagering on, not only in New Jersey, but elsewhere.