New operators for New Jersey racetracks

New operators for New Jersey racetracks

Published May. 13, 2011 6:38 p.m. ET

Horsemen at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands can relax after learning that new, private operators have been selected for the tracks.

The separate leases end months of speculation about the future of the tracks as the state of New Jersey exits the racing business.

News of the deal was widely greeted Friday with relief among horsemen at both money-losing tracks.

''The bottom line is, the headline on everybody's story should be: 'The Meadowlands has a deal,' '' said Tom Luchento, president of the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey.


Since taking office 16 months ago, Gov. Chris Christie has been looking for a way to get the state out horse racing. A commission he appointed recommended ending a $30 million annual subsidy to racing, which has been done.

The Meadowlands was projected to lose $11 million this year. Monmouth Park was projected to lose $6.6 million.

Racing officials and horse breeders had been trying for months to put together a deal to lease the tracks to private operators in time to save this year's season. Racing's future is also tied to revenue from off-track wagering parlors, which the new track operators plan to expand. Casino-style gambling at the tracks, which the Atlantic City casino owners oppose, was not seriously considered.

Jeff Gural, who owns Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs in upstate New York and two horse farms, will run the Meadowlands. Casino owner Morris Bailey will take over Monmouth.

Both men are real estate executives with casino ties who are long-term horse owners. They take charge of their tracks June 1 and both assume the costs of running the facilities.

Gural previously unveiled plans to demolish the existing grandstand that opened in 1976 and replace it with a modern, compact facility. He entered negotiations in December to lease the track from the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority.

The authority selected Bailey in April as the winning bidder in the request for proposals to lease Monmouth.

Monmouth opens a thoroughbred meet Saturday.

Greg Sacco, who trains horses at Monmouth for Baily, said he had confidence a deal would be struck.

''Being a horse owner himself, and being passionate about the business, I truly felt he would iron something out,'' Sacco said. ''Moving forward, I think he'll have a great impact on the future of racing in New Jersey. I think he knows what it will take to turn New Jersey racing around. I think he'll put the right people in place and I think we're headed into a new chapter at Monmouth Park.''