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Whelan Bill To Strengthen New Jersey Horse Industry Approved By Senate Wagering Committee

TRENTON – A measure sponsored by State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee Chairman Jim Whelan that would increase the number of standardbred horses in New Jersey, giving a boost to the state’s horse racing industry was approved today by the Committee.

“New Jersey’s equine industry is a vital component of the state’s economy – contributing more than a billion dollars annually and supporting more than 13,000 jobs in the state,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “As horse racing and gaming becomes more popular in neighboring states, New Jersey must think outside the box for ways to sustain this important economic engine.”

The bill, S-2759, would create a Standardbred Development Program in New Jersey that would expand the pool of horses eligible to receive purse supplements currently set aside for Sire Stakes horses. Currently, only horses sired from New Jersey registered stallions are eligible for the expanded purses. This bill would allow foals who are products of a stallion and mare that are registered with the United States Trotting Association – a national membership organization – to be eligible for the larger purse, provided that the mare stands in a New Jersey breeding farm for at least 150 consecutive calendar days between the date of conception and the date the foal is born in New Jersey.

“The Sire Stakes Program showcases some of New Jersey’s finest horses, encouraging breeders and trainers to compete with their horses in the Garden State and providing competitive and exciting races for the fans,” said Senator Whelan. “Expanding this program will bring more talented horses into the state, strengthening the industry for years to come.”

The New Jersey Sire Stakes Program was once a thriving program in the state, offering standardbred horse owners and breeders strong financial incentives to breed Jersey horses, but as the horse racing industry has declined in the state over the past few years, so have the supplemental purse amounts and the number of horses that qualify for the Sire Stakes.

According to a Rutgers Equine Science Center report, New Jersey’s Sire Stakes yearly purse distributions have diminished from nearly $7.5 million in 2007 to less than $4 million in 2011, while the annual purses have increased in neighboring states – from $15 million to $18 million in New York and from $4 million to $11 million in Pennsylvania.

The report also states that the number of horses registered within the Sires Stakes Program has sharply declined from 1013 horses in 2003 to 512 in 2011. Additionally, there are only two New Jersey stallions whose offspring qualify for the expanded purses making it unlikely for the Sires Stakes Programs to return to its previous registration numbers under current rules and regulations.

“In the past, the increased purses were enough to encourage stallion owners to breed and race their horses in New Jersey. As New York and Pennsylvania have built up their horse racing industry, New Jersey horse racing revenue and therefore the purses have shrunk,” said Senator Whelan. “Expanding the eligibility of horses to be considered for these supplemental purses is the first step in reinvigorating the horse racing industry in New Jersey.”

The bill was approved by the Committee with a vote of 5-0. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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