Building Better Racing - By Bob Kulina

 (Originally published in the June 12, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)   

Granted, it’s only been five days, but it looks like we might be on to something that would benefit New Jersey.

The experiment being carried out now at the Monmouth Park spring/summer meet is exceeding our best expectations. Very conservatively, we had hoped by racing only three days a week and boosting the purses, we would increase everything—handle and attendance—by 20%. After the first five days of the meet, ontrack handle is up 51.8% to $4.86 million compared with the first five days of 2009. Total handle on our races sent to other tracks is up 137% to $36.4 million, and attendance is up 26% to 64,946.

These are really strong numbers. We are honestly ecstatic but are cautious about whether this growth will continue throughout the rest of meet. We haven’t dealt with bad weather or any of the other factors that could affect a meet’s success.

And yet, it appears we’re on to something.

Our basic premise behind making these changes at Monmouth Park—that it would improve the racing product—is being

As a former racing secretary, I haven’t been pleased with the product we have been offering our customers for awhile. What racing is going through is like Detroit, which had the monopoly on automobiles. When I was growing up, you would have laughed if someone said he was buying a foreign-made car. At some point the customer lost confidence, and foreign manufacturers basically stole the market.

Racing went from being the only form of gambling to struggling for survival. We lost our market share.

In New Jersey we’ve had to find our niche. We also are in the last year of a $30 million purse supplement (from the casinos) and knew we had to prove we could improve the product. You can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over or people begin to question why they are supplementing an industry that isn’t showing growth.

We started by cutting the weakest days. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, no one wanted to come to the races. Next we needed better horses. We were not going to increase the inventory (the number of horses running) unless we really made an impact. It was New Jersey Racing Commission chairman Dennis Drazin’s idea to run 50 days for $50 million.

There were many roadblocks, but New Jersey has some advantages over other states. Both Monmouth Park and Meadowlands are overseen by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which has a good working relationship with both the Thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen.

When the decision was made to not run a Thoroughbred meet at Meadowlands, it allowed the Standardbred industry to do something similar at the Meadowlands that we’re implementing at Monmouth Park. Its 142 days are being spread out with fewer racing days per week over 11 months. We are strengthening the product at both tracks.

Despite the roadblocks, we were successful in the end result. Next year our funding will be renegotiated and everything is back on the table. Racing will once again be looking for a long-term solution in New Jersey.

So far at Monmouth Park we’re proving we can provide a better product. Besides the higher attendance and increased field size, I have been watching the performance of a 50-cent Pick Five we offer with a 15% takeout. It has been a nice bet that everyone likes. It doesn’t cost too much, and we were getting a $20,000 to $30,000 pool every day last year. The carryover had gotten to $70,000 a couple of times. This year the pool has been at least $200,000 every day. The first day no one hit it so with the carryover the next day it was more than $800,000. That amazes me. It tells me the people in the simulcasting world are paying attention to Monmouth, and they like what we’re offering.

This is what we need to do, especially on the East Coast where so many of us are sharing horses. We need to learn from the success of big days such as the Breeders’ Cup and the Triple Crown races that offer value. We need the energy a better product produces to provide entertainment for our consumer. 

Bob Kulina, vice president and general manager Monmouth Park

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