UPDATED: Bill signed, but A.C. beach horse race still in the gate

    UPDATED: Jeff Guaracino, chief strategy officer for the Atlantic City Alliance, confirmed the race won’t happen on Columbus Day weekend but declined to be more specific about when the race might take place. He said the race planning is still very much ongoing, and organizers are grateful to Christie for signing the legislation. 

    “No date has ever officially been announced,” he said. “We had hoped that maybe a fall date would work. But it won’t happen on Columbus Day, for sure.” 

    The ACA’s official statement:The Atlantic City Alliance thanks the Governor, the bill’s sponsors and all elected officials who approved this bill, which opens the door for a potential Atlantic City event on beach with horses. The exact name, nature, date, logistics and safety of the event on the beach with horses is still being determined.

    UPDATED: The Press of Atlantic City reports that Gov. Christie today signed into law the legislation to allow the beach racing. We’re still awaiting word from other race organizers on whether it will be held this year.

    It’s past post time for a plan to bring horse races to the beach in Atlantic City. As legislation to allow it still awaits the governor’s signature, the event’s operator now says it won’t happen until next year.

    The races, inspired by the ancient Italian palio di Siena, would have been run over Columbus Day weekend, but organizers couldn’t make all the details work in time, said Bob Kulina, president of Darby Development LLC, which operates Monmouth Park.

    “There were just operational question marks that had to be resolved,” Kulina said. “We kind of ran out of time.” Monmouth Park would be the event’s sponsoring track, and Kulina said issues like the safety of horses and jockeys is a top issue.

    “We’ve had horses on the beach already, but we were limited to the hours we could access it,” he said. “There’s a lot of difference on the beach surface.”

    Kulina said the Atlantic City Alliance, which has been behind the beach race plan, decided to postpone the event earlier this week. NewsWorks has reached out to Jeff Guaracino, chief strategy officer for the casino-connected marketing nonprofit, for confirmation and comment and will update this report.

    The plan has met with mixed reaction, though the American Palio Celebration being reported as a go as recently as last week. Concerns arose about the palio-type racing itself, which takes place on a tight-turning track that makes spills and injuries common.

    Kulina said the eventual beach racing event would likely change significantly in style and shape, and end up resembling beach races held in Ireland and Spain rather than the Italian palio. Rather than a tight circular course, the track would likely be larger and more oval or teardrop-shaped, Kulina said. 

    Each September since 1868, horses have raced on the beach in Ireland, in the seaside town of Laytown, County Meath. Those races are sanctioned events held on a straight track, six or seven furlongs in length, in a three-acre field elevated above the beach, according to the official website for Irish Racing.

    The Atlantic City event would be non-wagering, with no official purses or awards given, so wouldn’t need a permit from the New Jersey Racing Commission, said executive director Frank Zanzuccki.

    The beach racing would be more of a commercial entertainment event rather than official racing — more Miss America than Triple Crown — though there could be informal wagering, Kulina said. 

    Bills to allow the racing initially went through over the summer but were met with a conditional veto by Gov. Christie, who objected to a provision that would have allowed steeplechasing around the state. Both houses of the legislature approved amendments removing the steeplechase language, once again clearing the way for Christie’s signature

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