ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT > CURTAIN CALL

Historic Horse Racing a Sure Bet?

By David Spatz
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Jun. 12, 2013

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Atlantic City casinos have often been cited as one of the primary reasons for the decline of the horse racing industry in New Jersey.

In fact, the gaming and racing industries have shared a contentious relationship for years, even after the casinos agreed to kick in tens of millions of dollars to subsidize racetrack purses in exchange for the tracks not seeking permission to install slot machines or video lottery terminals at their facilities.

But the cold war between the two sides could be thawing, especially if the Atlantic City Alliance (ACA) and a bipartisan group of state legislators are successful in bringing a two-day horseracing meet to the beach in October.

But this wouldn’t be just an ordinary oceanfront romp around a track in the sand. The ACA — the private, casino-funded marketing and advertising organization — wants to bring a 700-year-old form of Italian horse racing to the beach during the Columbus Day holiday weekend.

It’s called Il Palio, and once a year for the last seven centuries, jockeys riding bareback race their steeds through the piazza — or town square — in Siena, Italy. The ACA wants to bring this colorful event to the United States for the first time and allow New Jersey racetracks to conduct parimutuel wagering on the races right on the beach.

That’s where the ACA is going to need an assist from the state legislature to make everything happen. New Jersey lawmakers need to amend a bill that for now only allows state-owned race tracks such as Monmouth and Freehold to conduct this type of betting operation during a special two-day “beach racing” season.

Atlantic County Assemblyman John Amodeo (R-Atlantic) is one of the bill’s sponsors, and he feels that with bipartisan support, changing the bill is “an easy fix.”

“We’re working now to come up with a change in language so that we can allow our own Atlantic City Race Track to be a part of this program,” Amodeo said. “We know how successful [the local] track is. When they hold their six days of racing each year, we see large crowds coming in to the race track. Plus it puts a lot of people to work.”

If Il Palio comes to Atlantic City, a series of preliminary races would be held Oct. 11. The field starts out with 50 horses — one representing each of America’s states — and then the field gets whittled down until finalists emerge for the finale, which would happen on Oct. 13.

While various forms of this type of racing can be traced back to the 15th Century, the first “modern” Il Palio took place in 1656 and remains an annual summer event in Siena, a town in the Tuscany region of Italy.

Both the jockeys and horses wear colorful costumes and head gear, and tens of thousands of spectators — basically the entire town — turns out for the event.

Unlike a typical oval-shaped race track, the Palio races are run through the town square with sharp, often hairpin turns, which often see horses going down and riders thrown from their mounts. But according to Palio rules, a horse can still win a race even if it loses its jockey and crosses the finish line without a rider.

The ACA is looking at a site on the beach in front of Boardwalk Hall to stage the event, which Amodeo predicts could draw as many as 50,000 extra visitors to Atlantic City over the early fall holiday weekend. Because of its popularity in Europe, it has the potential to attract visitors from overseas, too.

“This puts an international flair” on Atlantic City, Amodeo said, and will give the city a chance to show itself off as a destination resort to foreign travelers. The benefits to the casino industry are obvious, he added, since visitors will buy hotel rooms, dine in restaurants, see shows, shop and check out the gaming floors.

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1. Anonymous said... on Jun 18, 2013 at 06:35PM

“That is a crazy and irresponsible idea that exposes horses and people to extreme danger. Why not just have more racing at AC race track with incentives for casino entertainment given out to draw them to the city after the races. AC has a top rated turf course (actually the best turf in the country). No one who cares about their horse would run it on the beach with the possibility of it getting loose. No one will bet with no past performances on beaches.”

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2. Steve Grantz said... on Jun 24, 2013 at 08:52AM

“No doubt that this might not be the safest environment.

However, the notion that no one will bet on this because there is no past performance is not as credible.

People will bet on anything.”

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