The horse racing industry in New Jersey has been on the decline, but changes are coming to Monmouth Park to try to attract more people to the track. New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NJTHA) President John Forbes sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss the challenges and the future of the racing industry.
Forbes, a longtime leading New Jersey trainer, said there is a long road to recovery for Monmouth Park, but he’s hopeful. “We have a good following through the years down at the shore. Monmouth has a lot of years of patronage,” he said. “It’s also a family venue. We have a great picnic area and one of the things we hope to do is make it a destination.”
He said plans are in the works for other forms of entertainment besides the racetrack, including miniature golf, a hotel, indoor water park and a boardwalk themed area — “some things that will keep everybody coming to Monmouth not just for the horses but for the kind of thing they would have at the shore.”
The financing is currently being worked on, according to Forbes. He said Gov. Chris Christie has indicated that he wants the state to get out of the racing industry, but didn’t want to leave it in the lurch. The governor’s office, as well as other individuals, have helped the NJTHA put together a financing plan that Forbes said will carry the group over the next two or three years until off-track betting facilities are built.
“These offtrack betting facilities should have been built 10 years ago. It never happened,” Forbes said. “I think it was just a matter of sort of benign neglect. Nobody got around to building them. But they produce enough revenue to keep racing going.”
Forbes explained that New Jersey’s off-track betting sites will differ from those in New York because they will be less plentiful and “not run as cheap sort of refitted drug stores.”
He said the sites will have first class restaurants as well, making them a destination themselves.
Forbes said the changes present challenges. “I think the biggest surprise has been that historically horsemen haven’t run racetracks. It’s always been a state or a private operator,” he said. “So it’s kind of a new experiment for the country.”