Blogger's Note: The following is an open letter I sent to John Brennan, a reporter for The Record, who has been doing excellent unbiased reporting on the Meadowlands situations.
I must once again congratulate your reporting on the Meadowlands situation. The amount of work and even handedness approach you take to the Meadowlands’ story is to be applauded. I hope your colleagues nominate your reporting for a Pulitzer. With regards to the story (Another Bid for Track?, Tuesday, April 26) about the complaints the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen Association (NJTHA), in reality is not as significant as you report it; yet.
Permit me to offer some background information to put things in perspective.
The relationship between the thoroughbred and standardbred horsemen is traditionally a complex situation throughout the nation, everyone plays nice in the sandbox together when they have mutual goals as they did when the Hanson Report came out, but once the situation is stabilized and one side sees an opening, one group will attempt to stab the other one in the back for their own benefit. Due to its dominance, it typically is the thoroughbred horsemen which is the one doing the stabbing and this is what is happening here. Once the situation stabilized for the thoroughbred horsemen, they decided to see if they could displace the standardbred industry from New Jersey (Freehold may not survive without the Meadowlands) by requesting to put a bid in to take over the Meadowlands, a place where the thoroughbred meets are even less successful than standardbred meets, being a stone throw away from NYRA tracks and lacking a racino.
A decision was made by the Christie Administration to allow each breed to survive without the help of state or Atlantic City subsidies with Monmouth Park being the home for thoroughbred racing and the Meadowlands being the home for harness racing. Hence, if a RFP was put out for the Meadowlands, I am certain a one line insertion in the RFP indicating “The Meadowlands Racetrack must be used primarily for the conducting of standardbred racing”, would have been included taking the interest of the NJTHA away as I am sure the NJTHA has no interest in running a harness meet. Clearly the NJTHA sole intention was to obtain all the funding possible for their purses to the detriment of the standardbred industry, including the breeders. This despite the fact that the lease proposed by the state apparently has some protection for the thoroughbred industry with regards to simulcasting as The Record and other sources have reported there would be a six day turf meet which would preserve the thoroughbred horsemen’s right to simulcasting revenue, hence explaining why the NJTHA has indicated it will not object if Mr. Gural secures the lease.
The question you bring up as to why there were no RFPs for the Meadowlands is premature at this point. As the Governor’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak indicated, there clearly were “exigent (emergency) circumstances” which necessitated the Meadowlands to be offered for lease without a RFP. By the time the decision was made officially that the state would divest itself of the two racetracks, the Meadowlands was perhaps two months away from opening while there were seven months until the next Monmouth Park meet. Furthermore, the state was and is prepared to open the Monmouth meet as the sole operator with the new leaseholder taking possession around June 1, but the state has already agreed to run the meet longer if necessary. On the other hand, the State of New Jersey had made it known that they would not invest another dime in running the Meadowlands and if an operator was not found to take over the Meadowlands, it would be closed immediately on January 1st despite a meet being scheduled to commence on January 7, so it was essential the RFP route be suspended due to the emergency circumstances. Yes, the Meadowlands is being operated by the state on a $1.2 million dollar loan, but if a lease is not signed by Mr. Gural, the standardbred horsemen must replay this loan, In addition, as The Record has reported, the Meadowlands, with the exception of a week of racing for the Hambletonian (which they are contractually obligated to conduct), will not reopen without a lease being in place. A totally different situation than Monmouth Park.
If the state was willing to operate the Meadowlands while seeking out a leaseholder for the Meadowlands or Mr. Gural walks away I would concur “exigent circumstances” no longer exist and the NJSEA would either have to decide to permanently close the Meadowlands or put out a request for RFPs and I am sure if the RFP required standardbred racing to be a major component of operating the Meadowlands, the NJTHA would not be a bidder. Failure to put a RFP out then would certainly be a newsworthy story.
The timing of this story is certainly unfortunate with Local 137 and Jeff Gural not yet having reached a contract agreement which may be pivitol to securing a lease of the Meadowlands. There is the potential this story may embolden Local 137 leadership which not only jeopardizes their own employees, but the countless other employees that work at the Meadowlands and the entire standardbred industry in New Jersesy and elsewhere. It may have been best if the two sides were left to negotiate their contract without what I am certain is unintentional influence.
Once again, I congratulate you on your excellent reporting and look forward to reading more as this story continues to unfold.