For photos from the Meadowlands contact Lisaphoto@playmeadowlands.com

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Preview of the Future?

To highlight the anxiety people are feeling wondering what is in the report the Christie commission is scheduled to deliver on June 30, take a look at Wednesday night's card at the Meadowlands. This may be a preview of what racing may look like at the Meadowlands next year without a purse enhancement or slot revenue.

The feature race is the second race, the $83,800 Acorn Stakes for 2yo trotting fillies which highlights the first night of Grand Circuit racing at the Meadowlands. Here is a list of the other races on the card that evening:

1st Race - $10,000 Trot - 2 year olds colts and geldings - non-winners of 1 pm race lifetime
2nd Race - The previously mentioned Acorn Stakes
3rd Race - $10,000 Trot - 2 year old fillies - non-winners of 1 pm race lifetime
4th Race - $10,000 Pace - $10,000 claiming
5th Race - $9,200 Trot - $15,000 claiming
6th Race - $10,000 Pace - $10,000 claiming
7th Race - $11,500 Trot - Non-winners $6,500 last five starts
8th Race - $8,000 Pace - $10,000 claiming; fillies and mares

That's right, only eight races on the card for Wednesday night and if not for the Grand Circuit being at the Meadowlands, the feature race would have been a non-winners of $6,500 last five starts event. The only good thing you can say is with the exception of the first race, the fields are full. Thursday is a little better. However, it is clear without help; the Meadowlands will become another Balmoral.

Without slots or a purse enhancement the Meadowlands will not be able to compete against the racino tracks being supported with slot revenue and the horse supply will get even worse. Those gamblers faithful to the Meadowlands will have no choice but to abandon their favorite track and we run the risk of losing them forever to the thoroughbreds or other gaming options. If they flee to other tracks, harness racing may be able to survive, but if they flee us completely, the whole sport may collapse in several years.

Make no mistake. The fight for the Meadowlands is everyone’s fight. For once the industry must look past their parochial interests and look at the big picture. Those who race elsewhere need to throw their financial support to either promote or fight the recommendations in the upcoming report. With the support of all, we have a chance. If out of state groups are complacent about their local market and think the problem at the Meadowlands is not their problem, they may learn the hard they were wrong; perhaps too late.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Whoever tries to find a silver lining in this is either delusional or on drugs. Ever since Roosevelt Raceway closed, the Meadowlands has been a keystone for the entire sport. All or most of what the public exposure harness racing gets these days has come through efforts by the Meadowlands marketing and publicity team, not to mention the performances by a deep colony of horses, drivers, and trainers.

If the Meadowlands does not turn back into its old self, harness racing will not have a grade 'A' facility that can offer major stakes races and give the sport some kind of exposure. The competing tracks that are helping to run the Meadowlands out of business are all second-rate ovals that put their energies into running casinos. Racing at none of these tracks has any kind of priority. Publicity is minimal and there is minimal racing staff.

I have been following the New Jersey casino situation for a while. I think the odds of slot machines ever at the Meadowlands are remote. The one setup that could make it happen is if a casino entity (like Harrah's) buys the Meadowlands from New Jersey and gets the legislation it needs to expand gaming in the state. But even this is a Catch-22. Once slots arrive to the Meadowlands, its harness program will be 100% at the mercy of slots intake. So even if the Big M survives, it will never be the great racetrack it once was. And this is assuming that the casino buyer will be required to hold racing, which is not even etched in stone.

If the Meadowlands does close, kiss harness racing as a visible sport goodbye. Their stakes races will be eked out to several of the grade 'B,' slots-driven tracks because none will put up the money to host all or most of the events. The national stakes schedule will be completely fragmented and races will probably change location from one year to the next to the next, all depending on how much cash was pumped into the slots.

Marketing of the sport will also go from slight to almost nonexistent. This is not an exaggeration - you will notice that since the Meadowlands had the best stakes program of any harness track in America, it has accounted for what little publicity the sport has enjoyed in the U.S. The Meadowlands had the good fortune to be located right outside New York City, an urban center with the international mass media at its disposal. TV, radio, and print ads for the Meadowlands were run constantly until just a couple of years ago.

And the final putdown? The Meadowlands is very much the center of betting for harness fans. The Meadowlands is followed by the most bettors and handles the most dollars. Its pools are larger than any other American harness track. Simulcast menus rotate around the Meadowlands program. You could argue that harness simulcasting exists at all in many locations because the Meadowlands is available.

The whole point of this? No Meadowlands, no track to take its place.

Pacingguy said...

Anon, well put. The Meadowlands is the only A track around at present and being located in the NYC area certainly is key to getting media attention. The question is what track could and would be willing to step up to become the leader if the Meadowlands ceased to exist?

I think it could be Yonkers Raceway and people sell them short. Make no mistake about it, would Yonkers be equal to the Meadowlands, absolutely not but the potential is there. How can I say this? First of all, if the Meadowlands disappeared, the gambling dollars will go elsewhere. Some of the money may disappear, but there are those who want to wager on harness racing so they will seek a new harness track to wager. Quality wise, the only other track it could be is Yonkers (won’t be Chester with their 35% superfecta takeouts), despite the fact it is a half mile track.

Don’t get me wrong, Yonkers emphasis is the slot machines; without them the track would be long gone; it is economic reality. That being said, if the Rooney’s were not dedicated to horse racing, the track would have closed up a long time ago when they had the opportunity to develop the land for a shopping center or a ball park, before VLTs were ever a possibility.

Yonkers does advertise. They do advertise some of the stakes races in New Jersey newspapers and they do include the talking horse in their commercials so no one who sees an Empire City commercial doesn’t know there is racing at Yonkers. Sure they could advertise more, but the problem is what racing product does Yonkers have to promote?

This is not a knock on the horsemen that race in overnights (the SOA certainly works with Yonkers attempting to draw more interest to harness racing), but it is a different story for those who have stakes horses. How much promoting of races can Yonkers do when they are handed four horse stakes races (The Lismore, The Rooney) and the marquee horses avoid Yonkers? They have attempted to have million dollar races but the horsemen don’t support the races which force them to scale back purses.

I know the argument people don’t like racing over the half mile track. Heaven forbid they get saddled with the seven or eight hole; they may lose a race which could hurt a future syndication deal. If horsemen worried about racing more than protecting a horse’s value in the breeding barn, perhaps they would be willing to support the stakes program at Yonkers which would allow them to promote their races more.

Promoting the sport is not just up to the racetracks, the horsemen need to work with them.

JLB said...

Re: Yonkers, please change your observation to "Heaven forbid they get the 5 or 6 hole, ...". The fact is that the placement of the finish line virtually on the turn gives horses on the outside half of the gate no realistic chance of leaving unless they have unusually fine gate speed. This results in very boring racing which is unattractive to watch and to bet. Since the argument was made that the judges' booth would have to be moved to align it with an adjusted finish line, I would argue that the slots revenue is sufficient to justify the capital expenditure. Only then might the racing be more balanced and the betting opportunities more interesting.

Pacingguy said...

I understand that Yonkers is looking to move the starting point of the races further up the track. Whether that means shifting everything or using a Maywood type start where they release the horses earlier, I don't know.

Scott Jeffreys said...

Dear Pacing Guy and JLB : Why do people all overthink this starting line issue at Yonkers? Start at the freakin' eighth pole, start the timer at the finish line, and the entire situation is handled. The horses are going 30 MPH anyway at the eighth pole, so what is the issue?

Pacingguy said...

Scott, if they did that, wouldn't they actually be racing 1 1/8 miles? Hence, wouldn't the records be inaccurage if you call the race a mile?

Maywood starts at a different point. Are the Maywood times legitimate? If Yonkers did what you suggest and other tracks did what they wanted, i would suggest that the legitimacy of the race records would be seriously in question.