Plans for A.C. beach horse racing await Christie’s OK

     Palio di Siena, Assunta 2011 / Photo by Janus Kinase, via Flickr

    Palio di Siena, Assunta 2011 / Photo by Janus Kinase, via Flickr

    Legislation that would allow for temporary, Italian-style horse racing on the beach in Atlantic City, possibly over Columbus Day weekend, is awaiting Gov. Christie’s signature before organizers say they can move forward.

    In several recent stories, the Press of Atlantic City has detailed plans for what organizers are calling Il Palio di Atlantic City, which would feature on-the-beach horseracing by jockeys riding bareback. It’s in the style of Il Palio di Siena, races held twice a year pitting riders representing various neighborhoods in the city against each other on a tight-turning track in the Piazza del Campo.

    Local officials aren’t making official announcements yet about the races, but the Press’ Derek Harper approached from the Italian side, reporting two of the sport’s most successful jockeys plan to attend “as a sign of friendship between Siena and Atlantic City.”

    Jeff Guaracino, chief strategy and communications officer for the Atlantic City Alliance (the DoAC people), confirmed the plans Thursday but said official announcements would be made after the legislation goes through.

    “We can confirm that there is the opportunity to do a horse race on the beach that would be in part inspired by Palio in Italy,” Guaracino said. “We are waiting on many details and authorization via legislation to do the race.” 

    From the Press:

     As many as 50 horses are expected to take part in the race, which is based on the medieval Palio di Siena. That race is an ancient contest that pits 10 bareback riders against one another in the narrow Piazza del Campo in the center of the town. Tens of thousands of spectators throng the plaza, which is covered with turf for the occasion.

    Each rider represents a different neighborhood, or contrada. The race is fast, with tight turns that can make it hard for the horse to keep its footing. Collisions are frequent and it is possible for a horse to win the race even if a jockey is thrown.

    Sounds exciting and kooky and slightly dangerous, just like A.C. The six-furlong races would have taken place take place on Oct. and 13, the Press reported, but plans are now for one day of racing.

    Bills went through the Assembly and Senate allowing any of the state’s racetracks to grant a special permit for two days of racing on the beach in Atlantic City. It seems unclear so far what effect that could have on the rest of the state’ s racing calendar, and whether the sponsoring track — signs so far point to Monmouth Park in Oceanport — would absorb those two lost days of racing.

    It’s also unclear whether there will be legal betting at the races, with a legendary Atlantic City newsman seemingly at odds with the bill’s Assembly co-sponsor, John Amodeo, R-Atlantic. Again, from the Press:

    In July, The Press of Atlantic City columnist Pinky Kravitz reported that there would be no wagering on the beach race, since it would cost more than $800,000 to temporarily install the cameras and other equipment needed to accurately host betting. Amodeo disputed that, saying organizers still hoped to simulcast the race, while setting up a beach trailer to take bets.

    “They have to think out of the box,” Amodeo said. “We can’t spend a million dollars on a race. We got to put a race together that is financially efficient and at the same time draws spectators.” He also said the Atlantic City Alliance was in discussions with at least one national network to broadcast the race.

    I reached out Thursday to Frank Zanzuccki, executive director of the New Jersey Racing Commission, for some more information, and will update as more details become available. 

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal