Monmouth Park Made The Best Of A Bad Situation During 2020 Racing Season

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The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a decline in racing dates at Monmouth Park from 68 in 2019 to 44 in 2020, with this past Saturday’s card rounding out the year.

But there is some — relatively — good news.

Not only did the track avoid any positive tests for COVID-19 during the entire meet — something the Meadowlands Racetrack was unable to pull off — but daily average handle for the truncated meet also was up significantly.

Track officials report that the average daily simulcast handle increased 27.1% to $3.6 million, compared to $2.8 million last year. The overall average handle was up 20.8% to $3.8 million daily versus $3.2 million last year.

“It was a good meet — much better than we expected,” track operator Dennis Drazin told NJ Online Gambling on Monday. “We have a good team, and really everybody stepped up to the plate.”

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Behind the scenes

But even as smoothly as the meet seemed to go under the circumstances, Drazin said it hardly was a breeze.

“Every day was a stress — you second-guess yourself on whether you did everything right,” he said. “We were stricter in some ways than some would have liked us to be, but we just couldn’t let our guard down.

“We couldn’t be more proud to report zero cases of COVID-19 over the course of our entire meet, and the credit goes to the horsemen and fans who not only followed the necessary guidelines, but collectively cooperated to ensure each person’s safety.”

Drazin also credited track medical director Dr. Angelo Chinnici and his staff for directing and overseeing safety procedures.

Also on Drazin’s thank-you list are Gov. Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Racing Commission for allowing spectators at the meet.

While Monmouth Park can hold up to 60,000 on special days such as the annual Haskell Invitational, crowds this summer and fall were capped at 4,000.

Drazin said that on peak days and with people coming and going all day, the total sometimes exceeded that figure for the date — but not at any one time. The average daily attendance was 2,796, Drazin said.

A unique 2020 schedule — and 2021?

A traditional May kickoff of the annual meet at the Oceanport thoroughbred racing track was postponed due to the pandemic, leading to a July 3 launch of the races. The races continued on weekends through September before a shift to Wednesday and Saturday racing in October.

What can we expect for Monmouth Park’s 2021 meet?

“I’m very hopeful we can get close to normal, but I also want to be realistic,” Drazin said. “There are [COVID] spikes coming, and we’ll have college students returning from all over for the holidays and so forth. And even when we get a vaccine, not everyone may be eager to take it right away.

“But we have plenty of room to handle our crowds and still maintain social distancing. And look, if we have to wear masks, we’ll wear masks.”

Star trainer adds Monmouth Park to his rotation

Monmouth Park got a boost this month when Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who had assistant Dan Ward handle his horses at the track this summer, declared his intention to make Monmouth Park part of his regular rotation in the future.

Hollendorfer’s stable went 14-for-50 during the track’s summer meet this season.

The plan is to shift to Churchill Downs for two months, then to Oaklawn through April, and then back to Monmouth for a hoped-for “normal season” beginning in May 2021.

“It’s been fantastic,” Ward told track officials. “It’s a safe track. You get all kinds of weather, and the track was always safe. It has been a pleasure to train and race here this year.”

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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