For the time being, the track owner will personally subsidize purses at the two ovals.
by Dave Briggs
Despite some hiccups convincing the governors of New Jersey and New York to allow horse racing to return to action — albeit with strict COVID-19 protocols and no spectators — Jeff Gural, who owns racetracks in both states said Saturday that he’s, “glad to see (horse racing) back.”
The Meadowlands in East Rutherford, NJ will return to live racing on June 5 and Tioga Downs in Nichols, NY will hold its first live card on June 7. The re-opening of Vernon Downs in Vernon, NY is still at an impasse (see lead story). Gural owns all three tracks.
“It’s been a long struggle and it took a lot of work in New Jersey and the same in New York, really,” Gural said. “I had to work with the (New York) governor’s people to finally convince them that they should allow racing. Originally, they classified racing in Phase 4, which didn’t make much sense…I said it should be in Phase 1, agriculture. Finally we were able to convince them to open racing and in New Jersey, also, although in New Jersey I think the governor is a fan of racing. He’s a good guy, so we’re lucky to have him.”
Gural said purses at the Meadowlands are going to drop by 25 per cent, initially.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said. “The thing that killed us on purses is the wagering on the imported signals, the thoroughbred signals that we import and that business has been shut down for three months with no end in sight. So we take a big hit, plus there’s no live handle so we’ll see if the handle goes up because there are fewer tracks and fewer things for people to do… Who knows? Some places have seen big increases, but more and more tracks are starting to open so I don’t know if that will continue.
Gural said he’ll likely have to personally supplement the purses at both tracks because he isn’t likely to, “generate enough revenue to offset the costs, but I know everybody is starving and we have the stakes races. It would have been catastrophic (to the horsepeople) if we waited another month or so.”
That said, he stressed everyone has to follow strict COVID-19 protocols to be allowed to race.
“We’ve got all these rules and a whole army of security out there enforcing the rules. I’ve been told that the state is going to check in and make sure we’re abiding by the rules,” Gural said. “I hope the horsemen understand how important it is to follow the rules because if the state shows up and they see people without masks or not social distancing, they’ll just close the place, so everybody has got to do the right thing.
“I want people to be safe. I don’t want anyone to get sick.”
As an addendum, Gural wanted to clear up something HRU columnist Ron Gurfein wrote on Friday (full story here) indicating horses formerly trained by those indicted by the FBI in an alleged horse doping scandal were free to race on elsewhere for other trainers.
“I just want people to know that any horse that was trained or owned by the people who were indicted earlier this year, those horses won’t be able to race at my tracks for 60 days. The owners are going to suffer a little bit, because they are going to miss some stakes,” Gural said.
“It’s the right thing to do. Ronnie kind of implied that the owners have gotten away scot free and I wanted people to understand that’s not the case with me.”