Monmouth Park in driver’s seat to host 2013 Breeders’ Cup

by | 06.25.2012 | 9:38am

One of the things New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo accomplished with his takeover of the New York Racing Association was elimination of Belmont Park as a likely host of the 2013 Breeders' Cup, according to several insiders tuned in to the selection process for the 30th annual year-end Thoroughbred racing championships.

NYRA last hosted the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park in 2005, and it was widely believed the event would return to the Long Island, N.Y., racetrack next year after such a lengthy hiatus. But that was before the upheaval created by a takeout scandal rocked NYRA's management, leading to the dismissal of CEO Charles Hayward and the move by Cuomo to reconstruct NYRA's board of directors with political appointees. That NYRA board reconstruction, which has yet to begin, leaves too many questions unanswered about the future of the racing association for the comfort of many Breeders' Cup directors.

Instead of going back to New York, it is becoming increasingly likely the 2013 Breeders' Cup will return to Monmouth Park in New Jersey, which first hosted the event in 2007. That was the first time the championships were held over two days instead of one.

A number of factors point to Monmouth as the favorite.

The Oceanport, N.J., track, built in 1946, is leased for the next five years to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association after being operated for decades by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. The fact that track management and the horsemen speak as one voice is an important factor.

Darby Development, the company hired by the New Jersey THA to operate Monmouth, is led by Robert Kulina, who was general manager of the track when the 2007 Breeders' Cup was held there. Monmouth received good reviews for its handling of the event despite horrid weather that included a heavy rainstorm during the Friday program.

Kulina and his team are anxious for the opportunity to host the Breeders' Cup again. “Our handle figures were very high,” he said. “Other than the bad weather, I'm very proud of what we did.”

The fact that track management and the horsemen's organization speak as one voice is an important factor.

“The 2014 Super Bowl will be held in New Jersey (at Meadowlands Stadium on Feb. 2, 2014),” said Kulina, “If we get the Super Bowl of racing in 2013, that would be big to the economy of New Jersey. From the state's perspective, anything that can boost the economy would be a big factor. The state would be very cooperative. They were supportive last time, and if we were fortunate enough we are hopeful we'll get the same kind of support.”

Part of the horsemen's association lease with the state includes a $5-million loan, part of which could be used as a sweetener in Monmouth Park's bid to get the Breeders' Cup. “We do have the option to take a long-term loan from the state,” Kulina confirmed. “Where we allocate those resources is up to us. The state of New Jersey would be very pleased if we could add the event.”

The 2013 Breeders' Cup will be the first one run under rules adopted last year by the organization's board of directors banning the use of all race-day medications, including the anti-bleeder drug furosemide. Those new medication rules also may be a factor in determining the 2013 host. While the Breeders' Cup may impose whatever regulations it wants to conduct the championships on-site, interstate simulcasting of the races still falls under the guidelines of the 1978 Interstate Horseracing Act , which requires approval of the representative horsemen's organization at the host track for any interstate simulcast.

In 2012, with the Breeders' Cup being conducted Santa Anita, only the races for 2-year-olds will be run under the no race-day medication rules. The Thoroughbred Owners of California has already given simulcast approval for the 2012 races under the new medication rules for 2-year-olds, according to TOC president Lou Raffetto Jr.

But 2013 could be a different story. TOC's official position is that the use of furosemide is in the best interests of the horse, and Raffetto said the owners organization has not determined whether it would support or oppose the new medication rules if Santa Anita Park was given the opportunity to host the Breeders' Cup again in 2013.

The Breeders' Cup also faces a potential challenge to the imposition of its medication rules if the event returns to Churchill Downs in 2013. The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which strongly supports the use of Lasix, could leverage its veto power of a simulcast contract.

That's one reason New York was an early favorite to host the 2013 event at Belmont Park: New York is the only state exempt from the horsemen's consent portion of the Interstate Horseracing Act, and Breeders' Cup would have been able to impose its medication rules without concern that simulcasting could be an issue.

John Forbes, president of the New Jersey THA, indicated his organization would not block the new medication rules should Monmouth Park host the Breeders' Cup in 2013. “We are still opposed to the elimination of Lasix,” said Forbes. “We do think more study needs to be done on the most sensible way to implement medication reform. I'm more concerned with what happens to the horses. That being said, we believe the Breeders' Cup should be able to do what it wants regarding Lasix and medication.”

“The horsemen's policy may or may not be the same,” said Kulina, “but this is a Breeders' Cup event.”

That kind of cooperation is why some think Monmouth Park is in the driver's seat to become host in 2013.

“It's a big deal to us, for whoever is running the track, and it's a big deal for New Jersey,” said Kulina. “Hosting the Breeders' Cup is major. It allows you to have a bounce. Customers across the country pay more attention to your simulcast signal, before and after the event. Our interest is in horseracing. All of our business models are racing. We need to sell bets to be successful.”

One last thing Kulina said he told Breeders' Cup officials about Monmouth Park's 2013 bid. “We didn't put it in writing, but I promised them it wouldn't rain again.”

Craig Fravel, president and CEO of the Breeders' Cup, would not comment on the site selection process for 2013 other than to say he hopes a decision is made by the Breeders' Cup board of directors within the next month.

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