It’s March. ‘Tis the season for Thoroughbred foals in New Jersey. Or is it?
Spring is in the air and the Thoroughbred farms in the Garden State look oddly tranquil. In years gone by, one would notice herds of mares and their newborn foals dotting the fields of New Jersey’s Thoroughbred horse farms. This year, there are few Thoroughbred mares and foals to be seen. Fields are empty and farms are up for sale. In large part, the situation is due to a Governor who apparently chose to abandon the horse industry in exchange for indulging in a “new and improved taxpayer-funded” Atlantic City.
Based on his actions, the Governor doesn’t seem to view the equine industry -- breeding, training, racing, equine veterinary and agriculture -- as a relevant industry in New Jersey. To the contrary. The equine industry in the Garden State generates about $780 million of economic impact annually, according to a 2009 Rutgers study, as well as thousands of jobs.
Horses and owners leaving for greener pastures
Jerry Kolybabiuk, a Thoroughbred owner and breeder, has raised horses on his farm, Freedom Acres, in Moorestown for over two decades. He recently made changes to his business that are representative of New Jersey’s horse owners. “Over the past several years and with the uncertainty of racing in this state, it has been a real challenge to produce a foal in New Jersey,” explained Dr. Kolybabiuk. “I strictly bred in New Jersey for 21 years but had to make a decision to go to Pennsylvania. It’s sad that I cannot continue to breed in this state. There are so few racing dates and the purses are limited. The future is uncertain.”
The uncertainty surrounding New Jersey horse racing is a worry not just for horse breeders and owners but for everyone with a connection to the horse industry. Dr. Kolybabiuk explained, “When the state prohibits a competitive business environment, it affects everyone down the chain, from breeders and stallion owners and veterinarians down to the tack shop, feed supply and the farrier."
Eileen Munyak, whose family bred and raced Thoroughbreds in the state for decades, has been reduced to breeding a solitary mare only every other year on her Monmouth County farm, Hill Haven. “I used to have ten to twelve foals a year and now I’m down to half a foal a year,” she said half-jokingly. “I also did the foaling for large owners in New Jersey, but one left for Florida and another went to Pennsylvania.”
Surrounding states have boosted their horse industries by supporting their breeding programs, not taking away. New York’s breeding program incentive is $17 million this year and Pennsylvania’s is $10 to $12 million. These monies come from the handle on horse wagering and slot machine revenues. New Jersey’s incentive? About $1.7 million.
“Many breeders bought farms in New Jersey to raise horses for racing; they now send their mares away to other states to foal,” said Dr. Kolybabiuk. “As a result, there are more expenses for the breeders and there is less revenue for the people supporting the various breeding and other operations such as the veterinary clinics in New Jersey. Our foals are in another state sustaining the other state's economy, not our own."
A republican Governor against free-market competition
Back in 2011 there was a glimmer of hope for the state’s Thoroughbred industry. On February 1, 2011, the Governor signed the Atlantic City Tourism District Bill (S-11) into law which created a state-run tourism district and extended the support to New Jersey horse racing that it had been receiving for the past decade.
The signed bill phased in supplemental purse money to be paid by the casinos over a three-year period: $15 million for 2011, $10 million in 2012 and $5 million in 2013 in exchange for horsemen agreeing not to place competing slot machines at the racetracks. However, later in 2011 the Governor refused to allow the payouts to take place.
Today, the “non-compete with casinos” still stands at the racetracks which is tying the hands of anyone trying to create a viable business model to sustain the industry. Jeff Gural, operator of the Meadowlands racetrack, knows that better than anyone. Gural estimates that a casino at the racetrack would generate over $300 million per year in tax revenues for New Jersey whereas the Atlantic City casinos only generate about $200 million per year in aggregate.