Could Monmouth Success Force State's Hand?

It was big—not as big as the total wagering of $9.3 million—but a big enough development on opening day of the Monmouth Park experiment, which came together in only a few months.

Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was on hand to sign into law the legislation that made the one-year “million-dollar meet” possible.  He didn’t escape the winner’s circle without boos, but that comes with the territory.

The fact he was there sent a message his administration does take horse racing and its problems seriously. The experiment—cutting Thoroughbred dates in half and reallocating purse money—is just the beginning.

Time will tell if Monmouth can continue averaging $8 million a day in handle on weekends, but the fact the meet broke from the gate by far exceeding projections is a very good sign and a momentum-builder. It would certainly help if field size continued to average at least 9.6 horses a race.

It shouldn’t be forgotten, however, that a big chunk of the $50 million to be paid in purses over 50 days at Monmouth comes from the last year of the Atlantic City casino purse supplement. There are no public indications thus far the supplement will be extended, and racetrack video lottery terminals remain a dicey proposition.

But should Monmouth this year show it can greatly increase handle and interest in racing, the experiment would be deemed a success, and the state could be more willing to ensure the success continues by implementing certain financial measures, whatever they may be.

Maybe there is a comprehensive plan in the works, one that focuses on Monmouth but helps Atlantic City Race Course build on its meet to create more racing opportunities in the state. The bill signed by Christie removes Thoroughbred racing from The Meadowlands for just this year, so a boutique meet in the future at that track may not be out of the question.

Whatever happens, a strong Monmouth is the key to a strong New Jersey racing and breeding program.

Some horsemen went into the experiment kicking and screaming—cutting half your racing dates can do that to you—but the deal got done. And much more can be done in New Jersey if the state continues to lend a hand.

On a down note, about 700 miles away in Kentucky, racetracks and horsemen for more than a year now have been trying to find ways to remain competitive. Four of five tracks have reduced racing dates to bolster field size and maintain purses, and none of the tracks has turned its back on marketing and promotion. A few even spent money on capital improvements.

The Kentucky General Assembly began a special legislative session May 24 to adopt a two-year budget, but a few other things are on the call, including a measure that would permit the sampling of bourbon during the World Equestrian Games later this year.

As a fan of bourbon, more power to the bourbon industry. But as a racing fan, I’m left scratching my head. Is there really nothing the General Assembly can agree upon and pass when it comes to helping the state’s most prominent industry?

The racing industry in some states, including Kentucky and New Jersey, is biting the bullet to do its part. All that’s missing is a little long-term assistance from government.

22 Comments

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The_Knight_Sky racing blog

Mr. LaMarra wrote:

"But should Monmouth this year show it can greatly increase handle and interest in racing, the experiment would be deemed a success, and the state could be more willing to ensure the success continues by implementing certain financial measures, whatever they may be."

______________________

That is exactly what I am thinking. Should this meet continue on course, I do believe it is in the state's best interest to prop up the purse levels for 2011 perhaps to the level of Keeneland's racing meets.

Million-dollar-a-day averages are probably not required to attract quality horses. And perhaps the funds should focus on less races per day and more on quality.

I also believe it would be best to keep the meet as short and sweet as possible. That means reverting to what was successful for Monmouth Park--stopping at Labor Day.  

This would enable Atlantic City racecourse the option of pursuing a boutique meet in the autumn, one which would supplement a "renaissance" of thoroughbred racing in the state of New Jersey.

Keep up the good work in covering this meet Mr. LaMarra.

24 May 2010 12:58 PM
Tex

Give away cars, like casinos do. Have betting contests like the $100,000 bet for the Kentucky Derby. Lower the mutuel takeout to 8% on every type of bet. Most people want to go to the track with $100 and leave with $5,000.

24 May 2010 2:05 PM
russell

Glad to see Monmouth Park getting a little help. Had many a great afternoon there years ago. But seems like a bandaid on a major cut. I for one gave up on their short fields. Last year was a joke. Will be spending my betting dollars elsewhere as many others are doing.

24 May 2010 3:25 PM
clement falzarano

i am 75 years old and have been going to monmouth for about 60 years if they dont find a way to save monmouth i might as well die.

24 May 2010 4:52 PM
breeze10

In this house, we are happy that Monmouth had such a successful weekend. We love Monmouth and always look forward to our Saturday or Sunday trips there (from PA). The track is gorgeous..well maintained..fun for all ages.. and the customer service is exceptional! Other tracks should take more than one lesson from Monmouth! Best wishes Monmouth!

24 May 2010 5:45 PM
NJTrotter

I was fortunate to attend opening day of the Monmouth meet. The crowd was great and the racing was very good. Longshots mixed in with favorites and NO 2/5s in a 5-horse field! We all must remember that this is an experiment. New Jersey like most racing states is in trouble so to borrow a phrase from Monty Python's Flying Circus, "and now for something completely different," that's exactly what it is--something different. Less is better--in government and in horse racing.

24 May 2010 6:10 PM
Tom

N.J.needs to add phone account betting to all tracks so we can get a bet in when we can't get to the track. Monmouth is worth saving, whatever it takes.

24 May 2010 6:38 PM
zensfan

We have to be realistic. With all of the states that are having budget problems, the days of public assistance for the game are numbered. Our past time will be saved when the tracks start listening to the fans. There needs to be some consolidation and that would increase fields and purses, which in turn would increase handle.

24 May 2010 6:41 PM
Brian Russell

This is going to work. Unlike Saratoga filling fields with NY-bred turf horses and my beloved now home track Gulfstream doing so with cheap conditioned grass claimers (both so random that you can't bet serious money besides an "all" in the Pick 4) they seem to be able to keep doing it with real races.

24 May 2010 8:58 PM
wabstat

Racing Rule #1; Big fields = Big Handle. Enough said.

24 May 2010 10:11 PM
HollywoodHit

Russell please let us all know who all these OTHERS are that you are referring to. All early indications show that more handicappers are playing MTH than leaving. Too bad for you if you choose to ignore this pro-customer experiment.

24 May 2010 11:02 PM
UCLinden

Something the state of N.J. might want to consider. From Memorial Day to Labor Day you will see alot of people go to the jersey beaches, and thats a given. Naturally, that draws people away from Monmouth Race Track. Racing & beach activity occur during the day. During that period is also the vacation period for alot of families.

In order for the casino's to continue supplementing the purse's at Monmouth, you have to get people to the casino's !!

An idea that might work is change the racing schedule's at both Atlantic City & Monmouth. Monmouth would run between April & Memorial Day, close June, July & August, reopen again Labor Day and run thru October. During the summer months when Monmouth is closed, have a racing program at Atlantic City. You'd get more people into Atlantic City and quite possibly while they were in AC, they'd also go to the casino's !! If you got people into the casino's during the summer, you just might have the monies that are needed for the racing purse's.

25 May 2010 6:26 AM
JerseyTom

Clement: Spoken like a true Jersey racing fan. May you have many more days at Monmouth Park.

25 May 2010 7:45 AM
Caulks

Hong Kong runs between 70 or 80 days of racing a year. Japan a few more. Their secret of success of drawing a gate of 40,000-70,000 and handle in the mid-8 figures a day is by making the racing experience a special event and not part of the daily wallpaper. The meets have a beginning, middle and end and a substantial break between meets. Live foal count continues to drop. There are no longer enough horses to support racing associations running 5 and 6 day meets virtually around the calendar. Monmonth's strategy is brilliant and should be copied. NYRA should revert back to opening in March and closing after Thanksgiving and run no more than 4 days a week. In the brave new world of simulcasting, they can get away with that and deliver a better quality product.

25 May 2010 2:35 PM
Nancy

Tom, NJ already has telephone and internet wagering. www.4NJBets.com. Nothing will be done to help racing in NJ unless the Atlantic City casinos give their approval, they have too much influence with the legislators. I wish it wasn't true, but it is.

25 May 2010 3:44 PM
The Source

It is about time that Meadowlands remains a harness track. I feel that Atlantic City racecourse should have a synthetic track and run from december to may before Monmouth meets starts. The Meadowlands should remain a harness track, because most of their meets are harness. If they are looking for someone to have a plan for Atlantic City Race Course I have one and would like to speak to those who are willing to listen and make it happen.

25 May 2010 6:37 PM
Bellwether

BACK...BACK...BACK..."THE GAME" IS COMING BACK ALL OVER THE PLANET...ty...

26 May 2010 4:37 AM
UCLinden

This just might be an interesting scenerio if you combine my previous idea and that of "The Source." As we know, thoroughbred racing in NJ was at both Monmouth & The Meadowlands. "The Source" is correct in that The Meadowlands should only be for harness racing.

We could have year round thoroughbred racing in NJ if we alternated between AC & Monmouth.

AC track could be open November-April then it switches to Monmouth until first week in June. June to last week in August would switch back to AC. From September to end of October racing is back at Monmouth. Both tracks would entertain two racing meets a year and as I had originally stated, maybe you'd get people back to the AC casinos.

26 May 2010 7:54 AM
smartyjones1

the industry has to get together and form 1 commission with 1 set of rules--period!

set up quality race meet's at major tracks with a major tv contract.

we should have a type of major league, then the minors.

A tracks...belmont, saratoga, churchill, santa anita, keenland, monmouth, gulfstream, pimlico (only because of the preakness), del mar...these would be your major tracks...that's not that hard to figure out now is?

B tracks...hollywood, turfway, philly, calder, tampa, laurel, delaware...these signals should be shared (as all tracks should be shared and all races should be available to all viewers!)...remember, the bigger the pie the more filling is in it.

why is there bickering about pennies when if people act like adults there will be dollars to share? It's just common sense

the B & C tracks will keep the trainers,owners and gamblers happy (and the horses too because they like to run) and be a great place to test runners for the major tracks.

i can't believe i'm saying this but it's true the european model works fine...it's time to do this or we will lose our sport forever.

27 May 2010 6:08 AM
Andrew dekovitch

Slots are the answer of all Nj.s problems at the tracks , look freehold dead , meadowlands , going down , Monmouth dead, A.c dead . They have over compete Pa. Del. how onless they get the slots ? And the state owns all tracks except Freehold . Look at Philadelphia park 1 mile 16 msw 55,000

27 May 2010 8:54 AM
Mark The Bugler

I have worked in this industry in various positions since 1987 and have worked at over 40 racetracks (including Monmouth Park) during that time and visited at least a dozen others.

Of all those tracks, Monmouth sits right near the top IMO. It's a lovely track in a great location. Even the most die-hard, foul-mouthed New York handicapper "pulls it in a notch" when he comes to Monmouth Park.

Track management is very good, one of the best in the country.

Customer service is also very good. But that will change over time with longer hours and no additional compensation to the help. The reduced work week is also not good for moral.

This idea of a shorter, classier meet is definately the way racing needs to go and I applaud MP for taking the lead with this implementation of a shorter meet. But if I were in charge I would tweak it just a bit:

Race on Wed., Thurs., Fri., and Sat with 10-race cards. Increase purses a bit more for the classier horses and reduce the purses just a bit for the low-level claimers. No more than 20 minutes between races.

Finally, incorporate a meet at Atlantic City combining the Monmouth Park idea with that of Colonial Downs--mostly turf racing, 4 days a week with 10 races on the card. That meet could be run in April right before Monmouth opens in May. Or perhaps 2 shorter meets like they have at Keeneland, 1 in the spring and 1 in autumn. AC has the best turf course in the country. It should be utilized and marketed as such.

01 Jun 2010 10:19 AM
Contrarian

You'd have to have a "bouncing boutique" circuit, four or five tracks with 35- to 50-day meets. The rich owners would make out (unless their bluebloods tanked), but the "bread and butter" owners would be frozen out. Bread-and-butter breeders, too, in the various states -- unless their horses are absolutely first-rate, they'll have nowhere to run, and they'll be too many of them, anyway.

"Sport of modern-day kings," and bettors will get a "hit" or two a week at full fields (which remember are harder to handicap, especially the higher in quality you go), but where will you develop the AA and AAA "players" (horses) who wind their way to the top? Where will the well-bred hopefuls who can't cut it go? Think this question out VERY carefully, folks.

14 Jun 2010 9:20 AM

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