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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Monmouth Park Deal Made - Horsemen Are Alike

Well, the thoroughbred horsemen appear to have capitulated to the Governor regarding subsidies and the Meadowlands thoroughbred license, but they got their wish and will be racing this year and for more racing days.  In 2012, Monmouth Park will race for 141 days but instead of having a daily purse level guaranteed for $400,000 a day, they will race for "generated purses", meaning they will race for what they earn on wagering.  This means based on a 141 day schedule and this past year's handle, they will race for a projected $150,000-$175,000 a day.

This is a one year deal.  The state will make some changes to the proposed lease and re-bid the contract, hoping to get a new operator to come in and lease the track for a longer period.  At this time, it is unknown if the NJSEA will be operating the meet or if it will be the NJTHA and who would be absorbing any operating losses.

While I am a harness player, I am happy to see Monmouth Park apparently saved (at least for one more year).  I have been there and it is probably one of the most beautiful tracks on the East coast.  However, this deal shows thoroughbred horsemen are just like standardbred horsemen.  It's all about dates; even if it means pathetic purses.  In the case of the NJTHA, they rather race (based on a ten race card) for an average $15-17,500 a race instead of an average $40,000 a race they would have had with Morris Bailey  for more racing days.  That is their decision, so if  they are happy, I am happy, but to me, it makes no sense.

They are going race 141 days at Monmouth, probably reverting to a five day a week schedule meaning they will be racing for 28 weeks.  During the summer months, they may get away with it, but once the summer gives way to fall, you will see a large drop off in interest as the tourists are gone and the regulars get bored as the meet goes on and on or are tapped out by the onerous takeout. More importantly, instead of offering quality racing, I fear the old $5,000 claiming races which were the norm at the Meadowlands will be making up a good part of the Monmouth meet.

In this way they are like many harness horsemen.  In Chicago, where purses have been more than substandard, the purses would double if they raced only six months.  During the rest of the year, the horsemen would earn purse money on simulcasting to supplement their "generated purses" but the Illinois horsemen want to race all year so they do it with low purses and complain how the industry is dying where if they raced half the days they currently do and then went on the road the rest of the year, the industry would be doing a lot better and the need for slot revenue would be reduced.

Fortunately, New Jersey standardbred horsemen decided they wanted to race for better purse money instead of a lot of dates.  As a result, the purse money will be better than a lot of racinos, but not as good as the top racinos.  Hence, Freehold should avoid becoming the old Dover Downs of $1,500 claimers and $800 purses and the Meadowlands should avoid becoming a Monticello-type racetrack.  Yes, they rather race for more money, but they realize the "generated purses" from the meet alone isn't going to cut it; they need the "generated purses" from simulcasting to race for decent pures.  Yes, they aspire to more race dates in the future, but now is not the time.

The thoroughbred horsemen have decided they rather race dates and aspire for higher purses later; that is their choice.  Realizing a deal is not completed and in New Jersey, a deal is not a deal until everything is signed, I hope it goes through.  I am happy for the NJTHA.  I just hope they will be happy in July.

The Meadowlands meet will proceed regardless of the thoroughbred negotiations.  Senate President Sweeny had introduced legislation to ensure it would happen.  Sweeney's bill makes clear that any cooperative agreement between the tracks over their live race dates would be suspended for three years. It ensures that simulcast racing could continue at the track, whether a deal sought by the state is secured to bring in private operators to the thoroughbred track in Monmouth.  Hopefully this proposed legislation will be a moot point.. 

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