For photos from the Meadowlands contact Lisaphoto@playmeadowlands.com

Sunday, March 20, 2011

When Can We Expect D Day?

No doubt if you are reading this article you are interested in what is going to happen to the Meadowlands.  The meet ends this coming weekend on March 26 and then, depending on what decision is made on the proposal Jeff Gural submitted to the Governor, the Meadowlands will open on May 7 or July 30 for approximately a week so the NJSEA can meet its contractual obligations to host the Hambletonian on August 6.  In the meanwhile, horsemen (at least those that didn't bail out the moment Chester and Pocono Downs opened), will be left wondering what will be the future of harness racing in New Jersey.

Don't kid yourself, this decision is bigger than the Meadowlands.  Most immediately, will be the future of Freehold Raceway.  Purses there were recently cut to $1,800 for $4,000 claimers.  If the Meadowlands doesn't reopen under Gural's management, the NJSEA gets the first $1.2 million dollars of simulcast revenue from the Meadowlands (it would remain open as a simulcasting outlet for now), from the harness horsemen.  With no live racing at the Meadowlands, where will the $1.2 million come from?  The horsemen at Freehold raceway.  Anyone care to wonder how low the purses would go until that is made up?  Can you say $2,500 claimers?

Jeff Gural has made it known he wants things settled quick enough to let the horsemen know where they stand (ideally March 26).  Others suspect it will take three or four weeks before Christie blesses or vetoes the deal.  Make no mistake, without a subsidy the temptation for the top horses will be to race at Chester and Yonkers.  The question is where will the next tier of horses be going if a decision is not made quickly?  My guess is Hoosier Park which begins racing on March 31 and ends before the possibility of a significant cut to purses occurs which may result in an even weaker roster of horses to card races from come May 7.

Runners returning to the Big M?  Assuming the Gural team obtains the lease for the Meadowlands, don't be surprised if an Atlantic City Race Course type meet of turf racing becomes an annual event at the Meadowlands.  Why would this possibly happen?  With the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park presumably having different owners, the thoroughbreds may no longer have a claim to any simulcasting revenue from the Meadowlands.  With a mini-meet, they could preserve their right to a share of the simulcasting wagering at the Meadowlands.  Absurd you say?  Perhaps, but realistically if the thoroughbred horsemen don't get a share of the simulcast wagering at the Meadowlands, watch how fewer and fewer thoroughbred signals are made available to the Meadowlands.  For a track which handles $2.5 million on a typical Saturday on thoroughbred races, they can't afford to lose this revenue.