Luchento: Fate Is Now In Freehold’s Hands

Published: November 19, 2008 07:19 pm EST

Today the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey threw the purse supplement matter back in Freehold Raceway’s lap.

“I’m tired of fighting everybody and going in circles,” said SBOANJ President Tom Luchento. “Freehold’s fate is in its own hands. If they want to race 192 dates with an anemic purse structure and watch horsemen migrate to other racing jurisdictions, so be it.”

The SBOANJ had requested that the New Jersey Racing Commission, meeting on November 19 to award 2009 racing dates, withhold action on Freehold’s request until arrangements could be made to work out a way for Freehold to receive $6.5 million in casino supplement funds, including $1.6 million for November through January.

Last week, the Commission had asked the parties to meet on December 3 to review the purse distribution issues and the SBOANJ was asking that the approval for Freehold’s dates be delayed until after that meeting. The Commission, however, approved the dates for Freehold as well as the other tracks.

After the Commissioners voted, Luchento told the overflow crowd that the $6.5 million in supplement money allocated for Freehold’s purses might as well be given to the Meadowlands.

“Based on what you have done, you might as well give the casino purse supplement money that we’ve been trying to get for Freehold to the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority for the Meadowlands,” Luchento said.

At that point, Luchento walked out of the New Jersey Racing Commission conference room that had a standing-room-only crowd of more than 50 people.

Earlier in the meeting, SBOANJ lobbyist Leon Zimmerman had presented the SBOANJ case for a delay in the award of 2009 dates to Freehold while that track has refused to sign off and accept the critically needed purse supplement.

“The failure of the Freehold management to sign the agreement has created a critical situation in New Jersey,” Zimmerman told the Commissioners. “The Freehold management is acting to the detriment of racing. We are asking you to withhold the dates until this matter is resolved.”

The entire Monmouth County legislative delegation – four state senators [Jennifer Beck, Joseph Kyrillos Jr., Sean Kean and Robert Singer] and eight assembly members [David Rible, Declan O’Scanlon, Samuel Thompson, Joseph Malone III, Ronald Dancer, Caroline Casagrande, Mary Pat Angelini and Amy Handlin]– co-signed a letter the previous day, calling on the NJRC to withhold the dates to pressure Freehold’s ownership – Greenwood Racing, the partnership of Penn National Gaming and Greenwood Racing – to accept the purse funding.

Freehold/Greenwood has balked at signing the agreement because of restrictions related to the pursuit of other forms of gaming while the tracks are accepting the casino supplement.

Assemblyman Dancer, a former driver-trainer, attended the NJRC meeting and informed the Commission that the state Assembly had introduced a bill on Monday with revisions to the legislation for the distribution of the 2008 casino supplement agreement which would open the way for the NJRC to “disburse the funds directly to the intended recipients” such as the horsemen’s purse account if the permit holder, for example, Freehold failed to do so.

Racing Commissioner James Aaron said that while there are “significant issues that need to be addressed … under statute we’re constrained to approve the race dates.”

Freehold’s 192 dates are from January 1 through June 6 [99 dates] and August 1 through December 31 [93 dates].

The Meadowlands was approved for 151 date, the same as it has raced for the last few years, but there will be no fall meet. The dates are January 1 through August 21, 2009.