Deals offer stability for horse racing industries

AFP Correspondent

TRENTON — The New Jersey equine industry received a much-needed dose of stability with Gov. Chris Christie’s announcement on Dec. 20 of separate deals to keep the state’s harness and thoroughbred horse racing tracks operating without interruption.
The deals further Christie’s goal to privatize the state’s horseracing industry.
New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority reached a 30-year agreement with New York real estate developer and horseracing entrepreneur Jeffrey Gural for the operation of the Meadowlands harness-racing track.
Additionally, the NJSEA reached a pact with the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to run a full schedule of race days at Monmouth Park for 2012 without subsidies or enhancements to racing purses.
“Outside investment gives a sense of stability not just to the horsemen at the parks but New Jersey horse breeders,” said Ed Wengryn, New Jersey Farm Bureau research associate specializing in the equine industry. “Now that there’s a game plan (for the foreseeable future), investors can make better business decision as to whether they can stay here or not to breed horses.
“There’s been a slow decline in breeding in New Jersey. Across the board, there’s been a decrease in breeding and number of foals for sale within the racing industry.
“But New Jersey just decreased faster probably because of the downturn in economy and the added competition for gaming dollars from the nearby ‘racinos.’ Better races, better purses, better horses.”
Gural, who owns Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs in upstate New York, in addition to two horse farms, is expected to raze the old grandstand at the Meadowlands in favor constructing a smaller grandstand that would open in the spring of 2013.
With a one-season deal in place for Monmouth, the NJSEA has bought itself time to eventually privatize Monmouth Park.
A request for bids for long-term operation of Monmouth Park are expected to be issued in the next 60 days and will stipulate $500,000 in daily purses over approximately 70 days.
Acrimony between Christie, who insisted that the Meadowlands and Monmouth deals be finalized simultaneously, and the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association nearly derailed both arrangements.
Labeling the Horsemen’s Association “completely untrust-worthy,” Christie imposed a one-week deadline on Dec. 12 for the Monmouth deal to be completed. 
Horsemen’s Association pres-ident John Forbes argued problems arose when the state changed the terms of the agreement.
Cooler heads prevailed, though, and an accord was completed just 90 minutes before the deadline.
“This has been an arduous process, but one that I believe was necessary to ensure uninterrupted racing at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands. At the same time, we are protecting the public interest and preserving jobs at both venues and in New Jersey’s equine industry,” Christie stated in a news release. “Our transition to independent, privately operated horseracing facilities will continue in 2012, and I am as optimistic as ever that Monmouth Park will maintain its legacy as a premier venue for thoroughbred horseracing fans for years to come.”   
The Meadowlands winter meet is scheduled to begin Jan. 6.
Monmouth Park traditionally features a summer schedule at the Oceanport site.