Horseman To Freehold: Sign or Sell

Published: November 11, 2008 04:52 pm EST

The ownership of Freehold Raceway should sell the track if it will not sign the agreement to accept casino supplement funds for the track’s purses.

“We, the horsemen, would be one of the bidders to buy the track,” said Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey at President Tom Luchento at a meeting of Freehold-based drivers, trainers and owners who packed the track’s horsemen’s lounge in the paddock for more than hour to discuss the impasse that may result in the horsemen withdrawing simulcasting signal approval for both Freehold and its off track wagering facility, Favorites in Toms River.

“Pennwood [the company jointly controlled by Penn National Gaming and Greenwood Racing that owns Freehold] only seems concerned with what they perceive to be a restriction on their rights to pursue gaming in New Jersey,” Luchento told those assembled. “If they want to be in the casino business, they should sell the track.”

Freehold is eligible for $1.6 million in purse supplement funds for November through January and another $2.6 million in 2009, but, thus far, Pennwood refuses to sign the agreement which was negotiated through the governor’s office between the New Jersey Casino Association and the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority [NJSEA], the agency that operates the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park.

“We went to bat with the NJSEA and the casinos to include Freehold in the supplement,” Luchento explained. “We told them we need Freehold to survive. We’re entitled to the money.

“We’re prepared to shut down the signal,” he noted. “Freehold has threatened to close the track if we do but that would put their license in jeopardy. They say they’re overpaying purses now and will drop them to $25,000 a day. Freehold horsemen have to decide for themselves whether they can race for that little or go elsewhere.”

Horse owner Peter Gerry of Princeton, NJ argued that the NJSEA should provide the purse money for Freehold from its purse accounts.

“Peter Gerry’s ideas were already explored and rejected by the NJSEA and casinos,” Luchento said. “This suggestion to have the funds come through the Meadowlands circumvents the spirit of the contract. Three months were spent negotiating the contract, and Mr. Gerry’s suggestions only cloud the issue. Neither the NJSEA nor the casinos will accept a renegotiation of the provisions of the agreement.

“At this point, we would argue that Freehold is in violation of its contract with us which calls for them to do everything in their power to promote racing and improve the quality of racing,” Luchento added.

State Senator Jennifer Beck, who represents much of Monmouth County, has questioned Penn National Gaming’s concerns about the future of Freehold Raceway.

“The track ownership was clearly kept abreast of the negotiations [for the purse supplement] and now to turn around and claim something else is not logical,” Beck told the Asbury Park Press. “In my opinion, Penn National Gaming is a Pennsylvania-based company that does not have the interests of New Jersey horsemen in mind. I certainly don’t want to see Freehold Raceway shut down, but I question if Penn National Gaming wants to avoid that result.”

Luchento also called upon the New Jersey Racing Commission to take action against Freehold’s corporate ownership for its failure to sign off on the casino purse supplement agreement.

“Without the supplement funds the survival of the hardworking horsemen at Freehold Raceway is very much in jeopardy,” he added.