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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wishful Thinking: Gural buying Freehold

Now that the Meadowlands has been saved, let's turn our attention to the privately owned Freehold Raceway which is current owned by a partnership of Greenwood Racing (operators of PARX racing) and Penn National Gaming (owner of Penn National and other tracks).  At this time Freehold is operating on fumes with lower purses than we have seen in ages.  The two partners are fighting between themselves in court as Greenwood Racing won't allow the partnership to open an OTW in Cherry Hill near the old Garden State Park because it is too close to PARX. 

The current Freehold condition sheet shows the bottom class of $4,000 claimers racing for $1,800 and the top classes this week being nw6000 in the last five starts and $15,000 claimers racing for $5,000.  The quality continues to drop and the way things are going I can't see racing continuing there much longer.  This from a track who just ten years ago had a Saturday racing card which would do any track short of the Meadowlands proud where you had Preferred-Invitational Handicaps racing for at least $17,500 and at least a couple of divisions of Winners over $10,000 in last six starts gracing the program; classes that have long ago disappeared from the renowned track.. 

My opinion is Freehold is key to the New Jersey racing scene; if nothing else as a place where less talented NJ bred racing stock can race as well as extending the racing opportunities for the lower to mid-level horses racing at the Meadowlands as an 81 day meet at the Meadowlands is not sufficient to maintaining a strong breeding and program.  However, when coupled with Freehold's 75 day race meet, enough racing opportunities may be available to maintain a stronger NJ breeding program.  Freehold's surivival may be the difference of New Jersey being a significant state for breeding industry-wide or a backyard breeding state.

Of course, there would be a need to some changes at Freehold.  Their half mile oval would have to be converted to a 5/8 mile oval; something which I believe could be done though it would be a tight fit and it may be necessary to change to night racing.  I would suggest doing what Churchill Downs did and install temporary lighting to see if it would increase attendance and handle significantly.  The problem is Freehold's current managemment is unwilling or unable to make the necessary improvements to make the track more viable.  In addition to expanding the oval, night racing may be needed there. 
I'm not suggesting the purses and racing caliber at a new Freehold would be the same level as the Meadowlands, but the racing stock and purses would improve from their current levels to levels similar to Tioga Downs where their top open horses race for $16,500. 

The two tracks would not operate at the same time.  Freehold would race when the Meadowlands is dark.  Let's not kid ourselves, Freehold would need some help to jump start their racing program; perhaps a transfer of some funds from the Meadowlands purse account to Freehold's purse account the first year to allow them to attract better horses in their inaugural season under new ownership. 

I realize taking over Freehold at this time may be a lot to ask Jeff Gural, nor do I know if Pennwood is willing to sell, but something needs to be done with Freehold and soon.  Otherwise, the discussion becomes academic and Freehold Raceway joins the ghosts of racing such as Roosevelt Raceway, Brandywine and Liberty Bell. 


Anonymous said...

I live in Central NJ and in addition to the place just being downright depressing, you also need to know that the simulcasting there has also been decimated by the OTW that opened in Woodbridge a couple of years ago. 90% of the time I go there instead of Freehold since it is much much nicer (and the tv's work and there is real food). I also don't see night racing working. Not sure why they don't try Sundays. Nothing to lose.

Pacingguy said...

When Sunday racing became legal in NJ, Freehold tried it. It was such a disaster that they cancelled Sunday racing after two days.