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
confirmed.

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

18 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Paul Matties, Jr

First of all, I think Monmouth Park should be commended for their efforts in trying to improve their racing product both for the horsemen and the horse players. However, I think it would be extremely naive to think they have solved all their problems. To just add money to the same stale condition book will not work in the long run. Monmouth Park needs to continue to think outside of the box and come up with innovative ways to keep improving their racing product. The claiming game in America has been ruined by an uneven purse structure. Their goal should NOT to be run the best 5,000 claimers and the best 15,000 never won 2 races in the world but to have the best $50,000 and $100,000 claimers and let it trickle down to the bottom. Reward owners and trainers for winning and more importantly, maintaining horses' forms instead of encouraging them to claim and drop and jamming at all costs. In turn the better horses would have longer and more prosperous careers. The same recognition should be considered in the maiden races and the younger races. A maiden claimer should have a substantially lower purse than maiden specials and the same with the other lifetime conditions. Horsemen should be encouraged to let young horse develop, and only good things will follow. I love what Monmouth is trying to do and will continue to express my gratitude at the windows but I don't think the Monmouth executives should be resting on their laurels, yet.

08 Jun 2010 3:59 PM
onefast99

Thus far the racing has been excellent, but the track maintainence has been very poor. Why didn't anyone put water on the track on Sunday? The dirt track and the turf course are exact opposites. The turf course is too fast the dirt track is too slow. Get the track fixed up asap and you have the makings of the best horse racing anyone can ask for...one little note how about making Fridays a bit better by increasing the low purses in many of the races. $415k isn't anywhere near $1m!

08 Jun 2010 4:57 PM
tom m

congratulations to monmouth park for taking the bull by the horn.they increased their purse structure across the board,by doing so all fields are huge and people are betting into their pools.they are targeting the gambler.not like the rest of the racing industry that is trying to turn racing into a spectator sport by using all of their public relations efforts to attract the non betting fan by promoting rachel alexandra and zenyatta. they are 2 horses,when they run the fields are small and the payoffs are terrible.

tom m

08 Jun 2010 5:17 PM
Andrew A.

Bob, you guys are doing a great job but you need to get control of both surfaces and get them consistent.  The extreme slowness of the main track and the extreme speed of the turf course were indicative of a minor league operation.  There was no reason for it.

You took a great shot here and Horseplayers appreciate it but get it right and it will last.  Any more days like Sunday and you'll lose some customers.

Good Luck.

08 Jun 2010 5:21 PM
Brian Russell

I disagee with the posters lamenting the biased turf course.  After witnessing the world record, I then bet the 9-1 front running winner of the next turf race with way more confidence than a normal 9-1 shot.  Horsemen generally don't like biased tracks but every winning player I know seeks them out.

08 Jun 2010 7:06 PM
HollywoodHit

Have you put any analysis into the effect that the $1500 per also ran receives, to the increase in field size. As an owner I think that this has been long overdue.

Larger field sizes result in increased handle. The ROI on the payout to all starters vs increased handle would be an interesting statistic. Woodbine has similar purses, a full backstretch and a $400 payout to all starters. They're starters per race is lower than monmouths.

Maybe tracks that have a lower purse structure should redistribute their payouts so that all starters are compensated.

08 Jun 2010 9:05 PM
Andrew A.

I had the same 9-1 shot you had Brian.  What about the world record race?  Did you know that the course was rock hard?  

08 Jun 2010 9:44 PM
John T

It,s good to see the experiment at

Monmouth Park is exceeding all expectations and I hope it keeps up for them all the way to the end of the meet.

08 Jun 2010 10:03 PM
alhattab

Bob- first I want to thank you for taking the initiative to save my home track. You are right what you are doing is what Monmouth needed and, I think, the whole game needs.

You've got to get the ontrack fans more engaged to get the per capita up. You need big screens so people in the picnic area are fully engaged to the races and can see what is going on, can see the will pays and probables, can see photo finishes and stretch runs, can see the odds, can see some advertisements even! You have a ton of people out there every weekend who can barely hear what is happending. Could you imagine if Saratoga was like that! Invest the money and get the screens out there!

08 Jun 2010 10:45 PM
Smart Money

Someone please correct me if I am wrong, but I do not think I am.  There could not have been a real strategy to the elete meet, but rather a situation where the subsidy was there and had to be paid in purses.  

The fact appears to be Monmouth's numbers have improved tremendously but at the expense of competing tracks and horsemen.  Monmouth has not grown handle but temporarily shifted share from other primetime racing products.

Lawmakers in New Jersey would have to be crazy to call this a success for racing, but could claim success for New Jersey.

The only thing Monmouth is on too is for every $1 paid in purses they generated $.30.  Does not sound better at all; very unlikely to last.

09 Jun 2010 10:01 PM
WinnahPickah

I couldn't agree more with the previous poster. Once a year my friends have a BBQ out there. I usually disappear to focus on the racing! Need help out there!

Your still doing a good job.

10 Jun 2010 7:35 AM
Brian Russell

Andrew,  It was obvious after the turf sprint (the first turf race of the day) that closing ground was going to be almost impossible.  Most handicappers don't factor in track bias at all which is why you have to love it when it appears.  Gulfstream's main track is biased against deep closers 95% of the time but people still bet on them.

10 Jun 2010 11:30 AM
Don Reed

Bob, you're in a false zone.

You've succeeded.

Euphoria is your worst enemy.

Stop.  Then clean out ALL of MP's dead wood.

You still are nowhere near where you want to or should be.

If temporary euphoria suffices, what has bedeviled MP for so long, will fester & destroy your aims.

10 Jun 2010 2:41 PM
the geekster

always enjoy reading the final turn. id like to comment on the smallest paragraph. " next year our funding will be renegotiated" which means to me that we might not be receiving funds from nj casinos. will mps handle be able to support large daily purses? not necessarily a million a day. and are trainers staking their barn help accordingly?

10 Jun 2010 6:12 PM
Greg M

Great start but dont rest on your laurels.  Now negotiate with the casinos to get more than 3% from them for your bets.  Get 8-9%. Then start a decent phone bet service. You are getting way more from the off track betting. Then talk to Saratoga about them not running the JIm Dandy so you can run 12 horses in the Haskell.  You and NY and CHDN really have to coordinate your schedules so that they dont run the Diana the week before the Beverly D  and the Sword Dancer the week after the Arlington Million.  This will go a long way towards getting these stakes races to having full fields.    More ideas to follow  

10 Jun 2010 10:59 PM
Dawn

Greg M, your race scheduling suggestions will never fly--they make way too much sense!

11 Jun 2010 10:46 AM
John N

Bob. You almost got it right but I will not bet one dime on a statebred race. These types of races are another nail in the sport’s coffin. Last Sunday there were two statebreds in the pick 5. I don’t mind one or two at the beginning of the day. The statebreds are what has killed NYRA and made their cards unplayable. I am a resident of NJ and appreciate the attempt to improve the sport but I will continue to play Delaware park because of their scarcity of statebreds.

17 Jun 2010 2:56 PM
Bluto

John N

Monmouth is not missing your 2 bucks.

The fact is the state bred races are getting bet.

Enjoy playing the increasingly small fields at Delaware Park.

18 Jun 2010 8:01 PM

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