Monmouth Park Rebound Evident As 2019 Meet Ends

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The 2019 Monmouth Park summer meet may be remembered most for a high-wire act Haskell Invitational day when for a time the entire 13-race card seemed perhaps to be going up in flames.

But now that the numbers are in for the meet that ended in Oceanport on Sunday with the closest jockey’s title race in track history, track officials can look back with satisfaction at some strong numbers.

The main one is an overall increase of 16.8% in betting handle compared to 2018.

But the breakdown there is interesting: On-track wagering rose just 1% over the previous year, while wagering from outside sources produced an 18.9% boost.

Track operator Dennis Drazin said that mirrors what the likely model for growth is liable to become.

“We want to stay steady on-site, and see what we can do with exports,” Drazin told NJ Online Gambling.

Inside the numbers

With an increase in attendance of more than 80,000 — to 545,767 in 2019 — the handle per visitor actually declined slightly.

“We want people to come and have a good time, and we had days of really good attendance, like an extra 20,000 people for a food truck festival,” Drazin said. “And the casual fans still eat and watch the races.”

Drazin added that numerous concerts during the summer have proven popular, and a growth in attendance helps add to a more festive atmosphere.

But there’s another reason why outside-source revenue is more important.

While $21 mm was wagered on the Monmouth Park product at the Oceanport track, the figure for outside sources was a robust $185 mm.

Clearing Haskell hurdle

“Despite the challenges we faced on Haskell Day, our biggest day of the year, we’re grateful to the fans who stuck with us and for everyone who helped make the best of a very difficult day,” Drazin said. “To be able to show gains across the board without the benefit of a typical Haskell Day is significant and a sign that the quality of racing was consistently at a high level throughout the meet.”

Facing a potential public-relations nightmare if there should be an equine death at such a high-profile event, Drazin compromised by canceling six of the 14 races and moving the key stakes events to the early evening.

The strong final numbers for the year come in the wake of last week’s approval by the state racing commission of a renewal of a $20 mm horse racing industry subsidy that sends $10 mm to Monmouth Park.

“The positive overall numbers reflect the high quality of the product we were able to offer, thanks in large part to the purse supplement from the state of New Jersey,” said Drazin. “The subsidy was a key factor in being able to add more live racing dates to our schedule.”

That increase is liable to be repeated in 2020, which will be the second full year of on-site sports betting — another amenity. The state thoroughbred horsemen have applied for 70 dates, including 19 at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

The latter dates figure to be some sort of combination of turf and dirt races. The fall version at the Big M would extend from a late-October finish this year to an early-December finish next year.

The impact of the extreme heat on Haskell Day, the highlight of the meet and the biggest day of thoroughbred racing in the state, was significant. The attendance of 25,173 was the lowest for Haskell Day since 1993.

Monmouth Park moved the race, normally a Sunday fixture, to Saturday this year, and up a week, for television purposes.

“When you remove uncertainty from any equation, the end result is typically success,” said Drazin. “The combination of the first full year of sports betting and the subsidy from the state have help to erode some of the uncertainty pervading our industry. We’re optimistic about the future, not only for racing at Monmouth Park in general but specifically for the breeding sector in the state. We’re already starting to see that trend tick upward.”

Other Monmouth winners

Jockey Paco Lopez, meanwhile, earned the title of Monmouth Park’s winningest jockey for the sixth time.

The 109 victories is even more impressive considering that Lopez didn’t arrive for the 61-day Monmouth Park meet until he had missed the first 13 racing cards. He still had enough to nose out Nik Juarez, who gained his 107th win early on Sunday to claim a tie only to have Lopez make two more trips to the winner’s circle.

The top trainer title went to Jorge Navarro (his seventh in a row, this time with 68 winners), while owner Joseph Besecker led the field with 23 winners from 72 starters.

Photo by Benjamin F. Haith / Shutterstock.com

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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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