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Friday, February 26, 2010

Modifying the Meadowlands (and Yonkers) Schedule - A Proposal

In Thursday's editions of the Star Ledger of Newark it is reported that a possible overhaul of the thoroughbred schedule in New Jersey may be forthcoming.  Under this proposal, which would require legislative action, the Meadowlands would become a standardbred only track.  The thoroughbreds would race a fifty day meet from Memorial Day to Labor Day at Monmouth Park, racing three days a week (Fri-Sun) with a daily purse payout of $1 million.  From mid-September through November 23, there would then be another meet of twenty-three days with a daily purse account of $250-$300,000; likely to provide an opportunity for the cheaper Jersey-breds to get raced.

Should the thoroughbreds depart the Meadowlands, it would provide a unique opportunity to alter the landscape at the Meadowlands for the standardbreds.  One thing which should not be an option is adding days to the standardbred meet (nor do I think anyone would seriously suggest it).  There needs to be a contraction of race dates at the Meadowlands, especially when you consider the likely loss of supplements and the lack of VLTs.

So how could the Meadowlands racing calendar look like?  I have come up with an idea for a schedule which is predicated on certain assumptions (and hope that horsemen in different states can work together).  These assumptions are:

  1. Meadowlands and Yonkers work together to come up with a schedule that gives each of them a period of 'prime' time; allowing for increased wagering on their races.
  2. Allows Chester and Pocono Downs to have most of the overnight action during their race meets.
  3. Provides the Meadowlands with a true championship meet, similar to the two week Grand Circuit meet at Lexington. 
  4. Yonkers has the ability to scheduling racing during the Meadowlands' down time.
Under this proposal, the Meadowlands would roughly race 110 days instead of the current 184 days. 

Winter Meet (40 days)
January - Thursdays thru Saturday nights
February and March - Thursday thru Saturday nights; twilights on Sundays

Under the winter meet proposal the Meadowlands would race three nights a week in January and expand to a fourth night after football season by adding a twilight Sunday program.  The Meadowlands will offer a higher daily purse distribution during this meet than they will in the fall.

Yonkers Raceway would race during these three months on Mondays thru Wednesdays.  During this winter meet, the Meadowlands would race the Open and FFA classes.

Summer "Championship" Meet (40 days)
Third week of May thru first week of August - Thursday thru Saturday

During the championship meet, the Meadowlands would race only Thursdays thru Saturdays, running their Grand Circuit, early/late closing, and NJSS races.  Basically, for two and a half months, the Meadowlands will become The Red Mile with the best horses racing.  The stakes would be coordinated with other tracks that run during this time with the meet ending so the top horses can go on swing thru the Mid-West and Delaware, Ohio and Lexington.  The daily purse distribution will be similar to the winter meet with additional money for the stakes and early/late closing series.  

Yonkers would race Sunday thru Tuesday and Saturday.  Both tracks can run the caliber of horse they want (the stakes each track run would determine who gets what horses). 

Fall Meet (30 days)
Third week of October thru third week of December - Monday thru Wednesday

This would be the Meadowlands B meet.  During this time, the Meadowlands would race Monday thru Wednesday evenings and race a primarily overnight meet.   The daily purse distribution would not be as great as during the winter meet.  The only exception would be if the Breeders Crown came to East Rutherford.  In that case, the first two weeks of the meet would have the eliminations and finals of the Crown.

Yonkers would get the prime nights of Thursday thru Saturday with the Open and FFA classes racing there.

Could a schedule like this work?  A lot of it depends on the willingness of horsemen in New Jersey and New York working together as well as giving up the concept of more racing is good.  All I know is something has to give.


Ryan said...

Usually you are right on point but this is just dumb...Yonkers and Meadowlands more importantly NY and NJ will never work together. Yonkers will never ever give up Friday and Sat night cards. The problem isn't at the top of harness's at the bottom with too many substandard horses and tracks racing. Yonkers is trying to take out Meadowlands, not work with them

Pacingguy said...

Ryan, I don't think the idea is dumb; not to say it can't be tweaked. Let me explain why I think this idea is worthy of consideration.

First of all, in the past tracks in different states have worked together. Liberty Bell and Brandywine come to mind. By working together, they can both have stronger meets than they can competing against each other.

As for Yonkers not willing to give up Friday and Saturday night cards, remember, it is only part of the year; most of the year they can have Friday and Saturdays. Yonkers handles a million dollars on a Monday night when the Meadowlands is closed. Would it not work in both tracks interest if they each had a monopoly on the highest caliber of racing in the States?

While I think Yonkers Raceway enjoys tweaking the Meadowlands, don't kid yourself. They know racing, without the Meadowlands (or Monmouth if consolidated) would be catastrophic to the industry. As long as the Rooneys control Yonkers, I don't beleive they want to take out the Meadowlands.

IMO, the biggest obstacle is the horsemen. No one likes to race for less days. However, the number of days Yonkers will race will no doubt be cut once they work on a new contract (they are racing these many days to make up for the time they were closed). It is a question of getting the NY horsemen to understand it is in their long term best interest.

You are right regarding too many substandard horses and tracks racing. The eventual retraction will take care of the substandandard horses. As for the tracks, you will find not as many closing as some think. Eventually we will be going for shorter meets. When tracks race only three months a year and their purse account grows all year due to simulcasting, even some of these smaller tracks will be able to offer reasonable purses.

ITP said...

World Peace Happening -600 vs This Idea Happening +500

When The Big M loses it's subsidy money.....

1. They will be racing 5K claimers
2. Handle will drop
3. They can't demand weekend exclusivity because their product is crap
4. Horsemen will all want to race at Yonkers, Pocono and Chester...30K claimers racing for 20K at the small tracks or 30K claimers racing for 8K at Big figure it out
5. Freehold will close because Big M will be stealing all of their horses to fill cheaper races.
6. Big M eventually closes because handle has dropped 60%, racing sucks, Jim Marshall is leading driver and all good horses race elsewhere except for stakes.
7. Subsidies get taken away in PA after the casino companies claim harness racing is dead due to lack of handle and growth. They offer PA govt. half of what they are giving racing to make it go away....PA govt agrees and racing in PA is dead....How do the USTA, Hambo society, and horsemen like those larcenous takeout rates now?
8. Yonkers is the last to remain standing.
9. Purses keep getting cut at Yonkers as new casinos open at other facilities, revenues fall as competition takes away customers and expenses increase to try and compete with the newer/better facilities.
10. Yonkers becomes a shell of it's former self....NJ racing is dead....PA racing is dead....Breeding industry is dead....Harness racing is now back to the basics which includes a world of no slot subsidies and very little wagering handle.

After all that....maybe we can then see who really cares about the sport instead of all the dolts who are in charge right now that are just worried about whacking up the slot welfare until it runs dry.

Ryan said...

Horsemen will never agree, get along, or think of the bigger picture. There are 5 or 6 Horsemen's Associations in NY all representing different tracks. Instead of asking the A track's like Yonkers and Meadowlands to work together I suggest B tracks be treated like the Minor Leagues. Imagine Yonkers and Monticello working together for once. There are no conflicts of interest because the levels of horses are completely different. What annoys me is that the USTA is kind of in control but kind of not. They should unite everything

Pacingguy said...

First of all, thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate the fact you care enough to respond. It makes the blog more interesting; not only to those reading, but to myself.

Ryan, horsemen typically worry about their own neck of the woods. Sooner or later they will change their tune, or someone will change it for them (think Governor Christie).

ITP, if the Meadowlands race dates did not contract, you could be right about what happens there. However, I would expect the dates to be cut. It was once said if there was no subsidy, the purses would be cut in half (assuming the same number of dates). Now, let's say the dates were cut in half. The purse account continues to build throughout the year through wagers placed elsewhere. That money would be added to the purses when they do race. While purses will be lower, it still would not be as bad as you may think.

ITP said...

Contraction is not the answer for The Big M.

Would contraction be the answer for Del Mar or Santa Anita if Yavapai and Emerald were doing to them what Chester, Pocono and Yonkers are doing to the Big M?

If you contract and take away the subsidies, "it would not be as bad as I think"......Why not?

1. Purse pool would have to be solely handle driven....that means purses would be down at least 50% just from that.

2. Just because you contract, handle per card remains don't get the extra handle on days you don't race.

3. If purses are down....product suffers so therefore handle suffers.

4. Even with contraction, purses, handle and product will suffer so much that the Big M will become Freehold North.

If the subsidies are gone....Big M is dead with the present situation of being surrounded by slot welfare tracks which have no interest in promoting the sport or increasing interest.

Scott Jeffreys said...

The discussion about the Meadowlands and Yonkers developing a joint, cooperative program is not as much about horsemen's associations and state legislatures, but a recognition that racing "circuits" are a means to contract the number of racing dates per raceway while also concentrating the handle from all circuit participants towards one pool structure.

Think back to the Roosevelt/Yonkers circuit. As a Roosevelt devotee, there was an air of anticipation when Roosevelt was to open, a sense of loss when action shifted to Yonkers, but elation when that ten week summer meeting would come along again.

Why has there never been a Yonkers/Monticello/Saratoga circuit? Each has excelled at one point or another in terms of slot revenue and all are part of the same legislative body in New York.

The point is that no one racetrack that is "on top" at a given time has wanted to engage in a discussion about long term viability. Would the Meadowlands from ten years back have reached out to Yonkers management to offer a lifeline to make racing in the area better? Of course not - it would not have been in their immediate business interest.

Now, Yonkers is in the dominant position. Self-sustaining today via slot-fed revenues, maybe now is the time for true leadership, some true vision on the future of the game while the cash is on hand to drive some new ideas. Do the purses really need to be so excessively high at Yonkers right now? Could we potentially carve maybe 5% of the purses towards a fund for the creation of a true circuit?

In closing, things are great now at Yonkers, but the on-track handle is still next to zero. The Meadowlands still has some drawing power and on-track handle, but not the long term reserves to fund the current purse structure. This sounds like a time for leadership, not the construction of more state and horseman association boundaries.

Scott Jeffreys said...

Dear ITP : One comment from a gambling perspective - how many off-track patrons will bet both the Meadowlands and Yonkers in the same night on a regular basis? How much handle does that competition generate? Imagine if the pools were combined, returning us to two million and beyond per night handles. That is where coorperation on scheduling and less racing will turn out to be more.

The harness game does not need more $4000 claimers on a Thursday or Friday night to fill cards and offer playing options. If those races were the answer, Balmoral and Maywood Park would not be racing for $1800 on the bottom end.

Pacingguy said...

Contraction should not occur because of what is happening with Chester, Yonkers and Pocono. Contraction needs to happen because without subsidies, the purse account will not support racing of this quality. That being said, if contraction of race dates is going to happen, we may as well position it the best way possible so there is less competition against other tracks (less slices of the wagering pie)to maximize the ability of getting the highest handle and best horses possible.

Let me explain why I believe contracting dates would allow for better purses than racing as many dates now without subsidies.

You are right, the purse pool would be handle driven only, but you forget about the handle when the Meadowlands is dark.

According to the local newspaper, yesterday there was $1,647,543 wagered at the Meadowlands. Out of that $1.6 million, only $490,220was bet on the live Meadowlands races. This means $1.2 million dollars was bet on races held at other tracks. While the Meadowlands does not make as much profit on the $1.2 million dollars wagered elsewhere, part of the commission goes to the track, part to the horsemen's purse accounts.

Let's say the Meadowlands was not scheduled to race yesterday. $1.2 million dollars would still be bet on simulcast wagering. This contributes to the purse account for when the Meadowlands does race, the same way any simulcast wagering done at the Meadowlands the rest of the year does, whether or not the Meadowlands is dark (Granted some of this money also goes to the runners; it remains to see what happens to the runner's share if the runners leave the Meadowlands). If the Meadowlands simulcasts 340 days a year, the horsemen's portion of that revenue can be paid out over the number of days they race. Let's say they earned $1 million. Pay the million out over 180 days, you get so much per day. Over only 100 days, you get more per day.

This is not to say purses won't drop. I don't think it will drop as much as many people think.

Further example: They want to cut the number of days of thoroughbred racing in New Jersey to fifty days, but increase the daily purse distribution to $1 million. Same principle. Paying the purse account over less days.

ITP said...


If we could somehow get a partnership year round daytime circuit of Pocono/Chester and nightime circuit of Big M/Yonkers with a takeout rate of 10% on all bets, handle would skyrocket and the sport would become a wanted product almost instantly.

When racing is on top of each other...which it always is because they are dolts and don't really completely fractures handle.