NEWARK, N.J — The future of horse racing at Monmouth Park is in jeopardy as negotiations to transfer ownership of the Jersey Shore track to private management have broken down.
The dispute threatens to derail Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to privatize both Monmouth and the Meadowlands Racetrack.
The sticking point is a permit to run thoroughbred dates at the Meadowlands, even though all thoroughbred racing in New Jersey has been consolidated at Monmouth. The permit was given to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association in June as part of a deal in which the horsemen agreed to cut the racing schedule in half to 71 days for a five-year period.
The final contracts were slated for signature on Dec. 5, at which time control of Monmouth would transfer to Morris Bailey and operation of the Meadowlands to Jeff Gural.
According to John Forbes, president of the NJTHA, the governor’s administration said last Friday that it was not comfortable having the horsemen’s group hold that permit.
"We were all set to wrap everything up," Forbes said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "They waited until the 11th hour to tell us."
Negotiations over the weekend failed to produce a new agreement as the horsemen refused to yield the permit which allows them to seek additional racing dates and could potentially be a bargaining chip if the Meadowlands eventually gets slot machines or other alternative gaming.
The Star-Ledger of Newark reported that Bailey is no longer interested in leasing Monmouth now that the deal has fallen apart.
According to Forbes, the state is now preparing to close Monmouth. And the Meadowlands could also be shut, as the complex agreement that is now stalled also covered important revenue divisions for the harness meet slated to begin there on Jan. 6.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request by The Associated Press seeking comment.
Tom Luchento, the president of the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey, said Gural intends to sign his lease for the Meadowlands next week. If the thoroughbred lease is not finalized at that point, he hopes the state legislature will clear the way for the harness meet to get underway next month.
"I don’t see how their differences should interfere with our lease," Luchento said in a telephone interview with The AP. "I think it can be worked out with the governor’s office."
—Copyright 2011 Associated Press