By Art Petrosemolo
OCEANPORT – As would be expected, Monmouth Park officials looked forward to the 2013 season with optimism at the annual press conference and luncheon May 7, but not before a nod to what the facility withstood from Super Storm Sandy.
Dennis Drazin of Darby Development, which is in its second year of a five-year lease to run the track for the state, said that Monmouth Park (MP) spent $5.7 million to recover from the havoc to the barn area and infrastructure – what he described as “the brink of disaster” – created by the storm. Drazin praised track management and employees for coming together to get the job done in time for opening day and for assisting the state in serving as a staging area for utility trucks and personnel during storm recovery efforts.
With Sandy in the rearview mirror, Monmouth Park will open its 68th season at the shore Saturday, May 11. Thoroughbred racing at the historic facility – dating back to 1870 – will continue through Oct. 6 for 60-plus days.
Owners, trainers, jockeys, state and local officials gathered Monday, May 6, with the media to hear about plans for the spring-summer-fall meet at the annual kickoff luncheon.
Racing fans will see new facilities and racing options in 2013 and a hint of what lies just over the horizon if the state wins its bid to legalize sports betting.
• Two new bars will open at the track, one in the picnic area and a second, in a raised viewing area at the finish line.
• A new tent has been constructed in the picnic area replacing the one destroyed in the storm.
• Special event days, including four food festivals are scheduled throughout the meet, including two days of Food Truck Wars on May 25-26 which comes on the heels of the 2012 successful one-day event.
• Coordinated racing times between Monmouth and New York’s Belmont Park for the convenience of OTW (off track betting or wagering).
• Introduction of the very popular pick-six wagering, called New Jersey Shore Six, which allows bettors the opportunity to pick the winners of the day’s last six races at a base price of 10 cents.
• Mobile device wagering for bettors on-site who register at the start of the racing day.
• A new OTW site to be built in the state this summer as part of MP’s long-term plan to build additional revenue streams to stay solvent without casino gambling.
• An expanded partnership with TVG, which handles OTW and broadcasts racing results. Larry Collmus, Monmouth Park’s announcer and the announcer for racing’s Triple Crown, indicated TVG will have a presence daily at MP.
Collmus announced New Jersey thoroughbred owner Ebby Novak was the recipient of the Virgil “Buddy” Raines distinguished achievement award for professionalism, integrity and dedication to thoroughbred racing.
A new Monmouth Park partnership with the William Hill sports betting company was announced by Drazin. To start, William Hill has agreed to sponsor the track’s premiere event, the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational to be run Sunday, July 28.
William Hill is the world’s leading sports betting company employing 17,000 people worldwide. It is the first British bookmaker to be licensed in Nevada and operates more than 180 sports betting locations there.
CEO Joe Asher told those gathered that the company is committed to building a Las Vegas-style, state-of-the-art sports betting facility on the site of MP’s Ladies Secret Café if sports betting in the state becomes legal. New Jersey’s case is currently in the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals and, according to Drazin, has received support from four other states.
Ultimately, Drazin says, if Gov. Christie’s plan for sports betting, following a voter referendum, receives federal approval, the OTW wagering is estimated to be in the $100-plus millions with a trickle down effect to purses and breeders awards at Monmouth Park.
In closing remarks, track President Robert Kulina said he was already in touch with many of the trainers of Kentucky Derby entrants looking ahead to putting together a top-notch field for the 46th Haskell in July.
Kulina also introduced the track’s new logo, which added blue to the traditional green Monmouth Park colors.
The weather report for opening day Saturday is temperatures in the 60s and showers, but rain or shine, thoroughbred racing is back at the Jersey Shore.