Atlantic City took a step closer Monday to having a special horse race on its beach, when the state Assembly, responding to a conditional veto by the governor, struck down a provision to also allow steeplechase racing around the state.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where a Thursday vote is likely. State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said he thought it would likely pass.

Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, a sponsor who has promoted the idea of the American Palio in Atlantic City, said a final agreement is all but settled.

The race is based on the Palio di Siena, an intense annual event in Siena, Italy, that dates from the Middle Ages. There, jockeys representing the city’s contradas, or wards, ride horses in a tight dirt semicircle around the municipal square. Spills are common.

The Atlantic City event, by comparison, would be run along a stretch of relatively wide-open beachfront on Columbus Day weekend, as previously tested by Atlantic City Public Works crews in early August.

The bill cleared the Legislature in June after the state Senate amended it to add steeplechase racing — obstacle-laden horse races — outside of established racetracks. This was seen as a way to enable betting at the annual Far Hills Race Meeting in Far Hills, Somerset County.

Gov. Chris Christie on Monday vetoed the bill unless the Legislature agrees to drop betting on steeplechase.

“I commend the sponsors for their interest in enhancing New Jersey’s self-sustaining horseracing industry and applaud their efforts to attract horseracing fans, families, and tourists to New Jersey to witness a unique horseracing event on the beach,” Christie wrote in his message that accompanied his conditional veto Monday afternoon.

“I believe a special horseracing event on the beach will attract more people to our state while nonetheless preserving the breadth of horseracing around the state,” Christie wrote.

However, the effect of wagering on local communities would have to be studied, Christie wrote, before the state expanded wagering beyond Atlantic City or the racetracks. He wrote that expansion is currently not warranted.

Contact Derek Harper:

609-272-7046

@dnharper on Twitter

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