Racetrack owner drops challenge over Monmouth Park operator
Developer and racetrack owner John Brunetti has dropped his challenge of the state's deal to have the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association take over management of Monmouth Park Racetrack, Brunetti's attorney said today.
In a letter to state officials, attorney Paul P. Josephson said his client was withdrawing his objection to the contract and would not appeal any decision by the state related to the deal. The letter said Brunetti and the horsemen “have agreed to put their differences behind them” and explore opportunities to assist each other with meets at Monmouth Park and Hialeah Park, in Florida, which Brunetti owns.
“The NJTHA advises that Hialeah’s suggestion of a potential circuit is worth exploring, and would like to help restore a viable thoroughbred meet at Hialeah Park, whose history demonstrates that it was one of the best racing venues in the country,” the letter said.
The decision ends a tumultuous stretch for the parties involved in the state’s bid to privatize Monmouth Park in time for the start of the racing season May 12. The unrest began earlier this month when Brunetti filed a protest of the Sports & Exposition Authority’s lease with the horsemen group, just weeks after the deal was reached.
The letter was sent to the sports authority and the New Jersey Racing Commission, which has jurisdiction over the racetrack license. The commission has called a special public meeting for Thursday, according to a notice posted on its website, but the purpose of the meeting was not mentioned.
Attorneys for Brunetti, who was a losing bidder for the contract, alleged the horsemen had a competitive advantage in the bidding process because of their rights to a simulcasting signal at the track and their control over the racing schedule. That allowed the horsemen to become “a necessary party to the authority's negotiations” with Morris Bailey, the developer who was close to leasing the track before pulling out of negotiations in December, the Brunetti team charged.
His attorneys also called for the horsemen to be disqualified because of political contributions made by the nonprofit group, and called for bidding to be reopened.
That prompted the sports authority to hold a protest hearing April 16. But agency officials ultimately decided that the deal with the horsemen would stand, and that Brunetti was disqualified by his own political contributions.
In today’s letter, Josephson also offered Brunetti’s support for Dennis Drazin, who stepped down in December as chairman of the racing commission. He then became an adviser to the horsemen and a member of the group that was awarded the lease for Monmouth Park, a move that Josephson had said “does not pass the smell test.”
But today’s letter’s said Drazin “has demonstrated that he is the right person to lead and advise the horsemen in their future plans at Monmouth Park.”
“At the time that the protest was filed on behalf of Hialeah, we raised these concerns based on our necessarily partial and limited access to the actual documents regarding the structure of the NJTHA’s various arrangements,” Josephson said. He added that his client has since been given more detailed documentation.
The sports authority and the horsemen reached the lease agreement in March, allowing the group to take over management of the struggling track in time for the upcoming racing season. The agreement came four months after the state reached a similar deal with real estate mogul Jeff Gural, who has since operated Meadowlands Racetrack.
The sports authority declined to comment on Brunetti’s decision today.