TRENTON - Gov. Christie and horse owners have reached a temporary deal to keep harness racing alive at the Meadowlands through the spring, buying time to convert from public to private the operations of the nation's premier harness-racing track.

The governor announced Friday that the state would allow standardbred owners to negotiate a lease of the track that would be partially funded through offtrack betting.

The state will front owners a $1.2 million secured loan for the first quarter of 2011, ending April 1, to allow the 2011 meet to start as planned Jan. 7.

The loan is secured using simulcast earnings and gives the owners and a real estate investor time to work out a deal. If a deal is not reached by April, live racing at the Meadowlands will shut down, with the possible exception of the Hambletonian meet in August.

The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority owns the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park. Since taking office last year, the Republican governor has looked for a way to get the state out of the horse-racing business. Monmouth Park is set to lose $6.6 million this year, the Meadowlands an additional $11 million.

A commission appointed by Christie released a report Nov. 15 saying New Jersey cannot support two state-run tracks. It proposed ending live racing at the Meadowlands and consolidating thoroughbred and harness racing at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, more than an hour's drive south, starting next year.