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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Early Word on the Meadowlands

 The Meadowlands has announced that their 2010 standardbred meet begins on January 1 and concludes on August 21 (there will be weekend race dates in December, 2010). With the stable area opening in three weeks on December 14, many horsemen and racing fans are wondering what the 2010 Meadowlands meet will be like. Will it be a repeat of the 2009 meet or will things be getting worse?

Some people are looking at the stakes schedule to get an early read on how things will look. Several late closing series (The Blossom, Father Foley, Suslow, and SNY) have been discontinued while two new series for three year old trotters, The Mr Muscleman (colts and geldings) and Windylane Hanover (fillies) will be added to the schedule. The biggest change is the 30% cut in nominating and sustaining fees and a guaranteed consolation race for the Meadowlands Pace.

These changes are an acknowledgement of the changing landscape in harness racing. While the Meadowlands Pace continues to be one of the biggest races purse-wise, there are enough slot fueled stake races available elsewhere so horsemen have more options than ever. While the most highly regarded three year old colts continue to nominate to the Meadowlands Pace, owners of second tier horses can make better use of their nominating dollars by focusing on the smaller, yet lucrative stake races. The hope is by reducing payments to the Meadowlands Pace, some of these owners may take another look at the race and decide to give it a chance; realizing even if they don't make the big dance, there is still the potential of taking down a significant portion of the $100,000 consolation. With regards to cancelling some of the established late closing events, it was a responsible thing to do. The purse account has and will continue to be adversely impacted by the decline in racing quality and short fields. Being the added money comes from the horsemen's purse account, the track has a responsibility to invest these funds where they can get the biggest bang for the buck; no sense spending money for races that draw scant interest.

Overall, things may be a little better than last year. First of all, if New York harness tracks, as expected, start writing races for horses that race primarily at New York tracks, there may be an over abundance of horses available to race at the Meadowlands during the winter months. Secondly, the three day race week in the middle of the meet should be able to offset the loss of racing stock to Pennsylvania. There is even a chance that the exodus to Chester and Pocono may not be as great this year as the Pennsylvania legislature has taken back some of the VLT revenue previously dedicated to purses. As a result, once the purse structure is known for those two tracks and depending where the Meadowlands purse structure is, some horses may decide to remain in New Jersey. Lastly, having experienced the dismal meet they did last year, the racing office knows what to expect. Hopefully, they will be proactive instead of reactive

The real story of 2010 will not be on the track.  The future of racing in New Jersey will be determined next year.  Will there be purse supplements after 2010?  Will the Meadowlands be sold to a private concern?  Will Freehold survive?  Regardless of the outcome, 2010 will be known as a year of decision in New Jersey racing.  Hopefully it will be for the better.

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