By Matt Hegarty
Monmouth Park in New Jersey will hold a 141-day meet in 2012 while the state reopens the bidding for a long-term lease of the track under a deal that was discussed on Friday between the state’s horsemen and the office of Gov. Chris Christie, officials of the horsemen’s organization said.
The horsemen’s representatives said that the deal was substantially complete late on Friday, though final approvals of the agreement were still not in place. Christie has set a Monday deadline for the horsemen and the state to agree on a deal for the 2012 meet, threatening that he would close the track if an agreement had not been reached.
Under the deal, horsemen at Monmouth will run for "generated purses" in 2012, meaning purse distribution will be determined solely by the revenue raised from betting. As a result, overnight purses at Monmouth over 141 days this year will likely average approximately $150,000 to $175,000 a day, a sharp decline from average overnight purses this year of approximately $400,000 during a 71-day meet.
If approved, the deal will replace a long-term agreement between the state and the real estate developer Morris Bailey that collapsed earlier this month. After the collapse, Bailey notified the state that he is no longer interested in pursuing a lease of the track.
According to horsemen’s representatives, the state has agreed to re-draft the terms of the Bailey agreement and offer the deal, with some modifications, to other potential bidders. The Bailey lease arrangement included a series of interlocking deals with the leaseholder of the Meadowlands and with the state’s Standardbred horsemen, and the collapse of the Bailey deal threatened to unravel that agreement as well.
New Jersey law requires 141 days of live Thoroughbred racing a year. Horsemen have waived that requirement in the past several years in order to boost purses to levels that made the track competitive with some of the most high-profile racetracks on the East Coast. Bailey had promised horsemen $400,000 a day in average purses under the deal that collapsed, and officials have acknowledged that some of the purse distribution would come out of the track’s operating revenues, as a kind of subsidy.
John Forbes, the president of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said that the organization was hoping under the new deal to keep racing in New Jersey viable until a new private operator could be located by the state.
"We’re trying to keep the ball rolling and keep New Jersey racing alive," Forbes said.
Officials of Christie’s office have not responded to phone calls or e-mails for the past several days.