New Jersey Budget Makes Horse Racing Purses Whole Again

New Jersey’s 2023 fiscal year budget, signed into law last week by Gov. Phil Murphy, includes a record $25 million purse subsidy for the state’s horse racing industry.

“There was $15 million in the governor’s proposed budget for horse racing purses,” AJ Sabath, a longtime lobbyist for the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey, explained to NJ Online Gambling.

“The legislature added a $5 million budget resolution for the final $20 million installment of the $100 million [purse subsidy] over five years,” Sabath added about the allocation, which comes with an annual requirement for the horse racing industry to provide evidence that the subsidy has produced a noticeable boost to its bottom line. “However, last fiscal year, the governor and the legislature only approved $15 million. They were supposed to do a supplemental appropriation to address the shortfall, but it never happened. So the additional $5 million is to cover the shortfall from last fiscal year.”

The bottom line, then, is that the state’s horse racing industry is getting the $40 million total purse subsidy over a two-year span that was originally intended.

Racing ‘a worthy investment’

Dennis Drazin, who runs Monmouth Park for the state’s thoroughbred horsemen, conceded that without the shortfall being made up, he would have had to look into lowering purses or cancelling race dates — or both.

“But I never thought it would get to that,” said Drazin. “The governor and the legislature have made commitments to support horse racing and its 13,000 jobs. Racing does a lot for New Jersey.”

The subsidies are split evenly by the state’s thoroughbred and standardbred horsemen, with the latter holding races at the Meadowlands Racetrack and Freehold Raceway.

“We owed them the money, and we have made the commitment,” said Ralph Caputo, an assemblyman from Essex County. “We’re not going to abandon them. They are a worthy investment.”

A bill sponsored by Caputo for the extra $5 million passed unanimously in the Assembly in December.

“Horse racing is reemerging in New Jersey and reestablishing its pre-pandemic success,” Caputo said at the time. “New Jersey’s economy continues to recover, and we now have federal funding to further support the industry’s needs. With this measure, we will be able to help our tracks conduct the races we enjoy, and empower our horse racing industry so it can flourish.”

Reviewing the 2022 schedules

Monmouth Park is in the midst of its 2022 racing season that began on May 7 and runs through Sept. 18 in Oceanport. The thoroughbreds then run at the Meadowlands for nine weekend dates from Sept. 23 until Oct. 22.

Speaking of the Meadowlands, the track has been hosting harness races each weekend night since Jan. 7, with Thursday night races taking place last week, as well as more Thursday cards scheduled for July 7 and Aug. 4 — two days before The Hambletonian. Then after a three-week hiatus, harness racing resumes on Sept. 1 with eight race cards in 16 days. Harness racing then returns on Fridays and Saturdays from Nov. 4 until the end of the calendar year (except for Dec. 23-24).

At Freehold, racing season began on New Year’s Day and ran on weekend afternoons (with occasional Thursday racing) until May 28. After a three-month break, the harness races resume on Aug. 26 and continue for two or three days per week through the end of December.

As for the $20 million annual subsidy, it breaks out to $10 million for the state’s thoroughbred horsemen and $10 million for the standardbred horsemen, with the latter being allocated in this fashion:

  • $6 million for  Meadowlands racing purses
  •  $1.6 million for Freehold Raceway purses
  • $1.2 million for New Jersey Sire Stakes purses
  • $600,000 for purse bonuses for New Jersey-sired horses
  • $600,000 for breeders awards purses

Photo courtesy of Meadowlands Racetrack

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