By Neil Schulman
Oceanport — A deal to keep Monmouth Park open in 2012 was reached hours before Governor Chris Christie had threatened to shut it down. The track will still operate, but with lowered purses.
Two weeks ago, negotiations with businessman Morris Bailey, who was going to lease and manage the track from the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, broke down, and Bailey walked away. The New Jersey Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association placed the blame on Christie’s administration. The governor, in turn, blamed the Association, and said he would shut Monmouth Park down next year if a deal was not reached by the end of Dec. 20.
At about 10:30 p.m. that day, the NJSEA and Association announced they had reached a deal.
On Tuesday, Christie said there would be a full schedule of racing at the track this year, 141 days. The last two years have had reduced meeting days.
However, purses will be much smaller, since there will be no subsidies or enhancements to racing purses.
Reports estimate that daily purses will be $150,000-$175,000. In contrast, the 50-day 2010 Elite Meet featured average daily purses of $1 million, and the 71-day 2011 season averaged $400,000.
“This has been an arduous process but one that I believe was necessary to ensure uninterrupted racing at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands. At the same time, we are protecting the public interest and preserving jobs at both venues and in New Jersey’s equine industry,” said Governor Christie. “Our transition to independent, privately operated horseracing facilities will continue in 2012, and I am as optimistic as ever that Monmouth Park will maintain its legacy as a premier venue for thoroughbred horseracing fans for years to come.”
Early next year, the NJSEA will renew its search for a new operator and to put Monmouth Park in private hands.
Last week, when it looked as though the track was in peril, the Oceanport governing body stepped in and offered to act as an intermediary for negotiations if necessary.
On Thursday, Dec. 15, Mayor Michael Mahon said that the 1,600 jobs at risk at the largest business in Oceanport made that the borough feel it had to do something.
“Our very community hangs in the balance,” he said.
While, at the time, he said he could not disclose what had resulted from the offer in public, due to confidentiality of negotiations, he did say, “There has been instant feedback.”
Mahon said the borough didn’t want to get involved if it didn’t have to, but would step in if it helped preserve the track. Officials hoped a third party offering to step in could serve as an icebreaker.
“My best case scenario… is it fuels discussion with all parties,” he said.
Originally published Dec. 22, 2011