A bill that would provide $20 million to boost purses sits in committee

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Meadowlands announced it would apply for 68 live racing dates for the 2019 and the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association is not happy about it.

The track must submit its date requests to the New Jersey Racing Commission by Oct. 15. The track was granted 90 days of racing for 2018.

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A statement sent out on Oct. 11 by the Meadowlands said, “The main factor in forcing us to reduce dates is the failure to obtain a purse subsidy that would enable us to compete with the Pennsylvania tracks when they open in late March. By reducing dates we believe it would help to be able to attract enough horses to race during that period and we are quite certain that without the subsidy racing more than 68 days would be impossible.  The Thoroughbreds have also advised us that they would like to race in the fall and they have the legal right to do that but we believe that if we were able to get the subsidy, which is split between the Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds, we might be able to work out a schedule that would be beneficial to both breeds.” 

The Meadowlands would be forced to drop the fall stakes program, according to the statement. The Fall Final Four and possibly the TVG Championships will have to be relocated or canceled along with The Kindergarten series.

“The purse account deficit is another issue as without any subsidy the funds available limiting the daily average to approximately $110,000 which is not enough to attract enough horses to fill Meadowlands cards when the PA tracks open. Fewer dates will permit an increase as we attempt to field races that will be attractive to the horseplayers,” the statement said.

Mark Ford, President of the NJ Standardbred Owner’s and Breeder’s Association responded to the announcement from the Meadowlands with “Contrary to our ongoing dialogue with the Meadowlands, we were not given any notice and were as much surprised as anyone to read their release indicating that they were putting in for a 68 day meet with a significant reduction of added-money events.

“We found this particularly disappointing in that we have been working very hard with various legislators and did feel that we had made progress in getting some assistance from the state.”

The Meadowlands request is to race Friday and Saturday from Jan. 4 through Hambletonian Day on Aug. 3 then Thursday through Saturday the last two weeks of December.

“We hope in the next few weeks that the legislature will act on the purse subsidy legislation in which case we would revisit this with the expectation that we could increase the race dates including a modified fall schedule,” the Meadowlands’ statement said.

A bill that would appropriate $20 million to boost horse racing in New Jersey was introduced on Sept. 24.

Sponsored by Senator Vin Gopal of District 11 in Monmouth County, home to Monmouth Park, and Senator Paul A. Sarlo, District 36, which includes, Bergen County, home of the Meadowlands, sponsored the bill.

The bill was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee and would supplement the racing industry for the next five years. No action has been taken on the bill since.

Under the bill, for the fiscal year 2019 and in each of the four fiscal years thereafter, $20,000,000 would be supplied annually to the New Jersey Racing Commission to be used for horse racing purse subsidies. The Thoroughbred and the Standardbred industries would split the funds evenly.  Monmouth Park would use the money to supplement overnight purses.  The Meadowlands would get 60% of the Standardbred share for overnight purses; 16% would go to Freehold for overnight purses; 12% to the New Jersey Sire Stakes purses; 6% to purse bonuses for New Jersey sired horses; and 6% for breeders awards.

Ford also said that a 68-day meet at the Meadowlands in 2019, violates their contract with the SBOA regarding a minimum amount of days. That “is clearly unacceptable and we will address that immediately,” Ford said.

For many years the Atlantic City Casinos provided $30 million a year to the tracks to prop up the racing industry, provided they did not pursue slots, until Governor Chris Christie was elected. In 2011 the state-run Meadowlands and Monmouth Park were handed over to private entities to operate but efforts to bring slots or video gaming terminals to the tracks failed. Earlier this year, the state won a long federal legal battle over sports betting and now the tracks as well as the casinos can take sports bets.

The New Jersey tracks have struggled to attract horses enter its races which have lower purses than tracks in New York and Pennsylvania which receive funds from on-site casinos and other gambling.

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