Luchento addresses Freehold horsemen on closing day

Tom Luchento, president of the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey, spoke to about 70 horsemen on the morning of June 6, prior to the final card of the Freehold 2009 winter-spring meet.

The first thing he did was dispel rumors that this might be the last closing day at Freehold.

“Freehold is coming back,” he said, standing in the crowded Paddock Lounge.

“But we’ve agreed to let Freehold cut back its number of racing dates, from 192 to 168,” he continued. “We did not give up the dates; they’re not lost for good.The track will have to negotiate with us each year, and if we get gaming revenues to support the purses, we will probably add those dates back.”

Luchento brought the Freehold-based membership up to date on the lawsuit to add sports betting, calling attention to Gov. Corzine’s support of sports betting.

“It is going to take time to accomplish this but this is a good sign,” he said.

“We know that the only way to save racing is alternate gaming,” Luchento explained. “Sports betting is one of the pieces in the puzzle. You need to make the racetrack an event and offer a bunch of different games. We have to stick together and wait it out. I am hopeful we will have slots, too.”

Luchento reminded horsemen that the Meadowlands is offering bonuses for New Jersey-owned and -bred horses, lowered its minimum claiming and condition levels, and is struggling to fill fields.

“With Freehold closed for two months, there are opportunities for you at the Meadowlands,” he said. “But you need to look ahead and improve your stock. If there is slots money, you won’t be able to race your cheap horses.”

Unofficially, racing is expected to return to Freehold on Aug. 12 with a Wednesday through Saturday racing schedule.

Luchento acknowledged that times are difficult for the horsemen but urged them to donate to the New Jersey harness racing industry’s political action committee, TrotPAC.

“Without your donations, we don’t have the money to go forward,” he said.