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.