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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The "New" Jersey Standardbred Calendar - A Recommendation

Despite all the doom and gloom encasing the New Jersey standardbred world, I believe we will be seeing racing at the Meadowlands next year; albeit a reduced schedule.  However, some people are saying they need a hundred day 'elite' meet at the Meadowlands to make it work.  The problem is a hundred day meet will likely not be able to sustain the existing purse structure.

We need to provide enough racing dates in the state of New Jersey to allow the state's breeding program to remain relevant as well as provide racing opportunities which make the product attractive for export.  This means providing enough racing dates to ensure sufficient racing dates for the New Jersey sired and bred horses of all levels, yet provide ample non-restricted racing opportunities.  This involves coordinating racing schedules at the Meadowlands and Freehold, plus re-introducing a fair circuit. 

In my vision, the New Jersey standardbred calendar would look like this:

  • Freehold Raceway - March thru May (48 days); September thru November (36 days)
  • Meadowlands - Last week of May thru first week of September (50 days), October (8 days)
  • New Jersey Fair Circuit - July thru August (more about this later)
This schedule, excluding the fair circuit, would provide for 142 standardbred dates in New Jersey between Freehold and the Meadowlands.  The Freehold dates would bookend the Meadowlands' meet with the spring meet racing four days a week while the fall meet would race three days a week.  The Meadowlands meet would race Memorial Day through Labor Day with racing typically three days a week, featuring the 'A' list horses.  In addition to the summer meet, the Meadowlands would host a two week Grand Circuit meet similar to the Red Mile's meet, racing four days a week which would be scheduled after the Red Mile and culminate with the Breeders Crown should it be awarded to the Meadowlands.  By reducing the racing calendar at Freehold and the Meadowlands, the current purse structure should be sustained, if not increased, without the help of purse subsidies and provide sufficient racing opportunities for locally owned horses as well as provide for a sufficient early and late closing program for non-state bred horses.

However, with reduced racing opportunities, something needs to be done to help encourage interest in New Jersey sired and bred horses.  This would be accomplished by replacing the New Jersey Sire Stakes (NJSS) with a new program, the New Jersey Sired and Foaled Stakes (NJSF) which would be open to horses sired by New Jersey resident stallions and horses foaled in the state.  Why should the NJSS  be replaced?  With the increased use of semen transport, many of the mares who breed to New Jersey sired horses never step foot in the state.  By opening the program to horses foaled in state, it will actually stimulate business at New Jersey standardbred farms by encouraging broodmares to make New Jersey their home.     

The NJSF would have three levels; gold, silver, and bronze with events for two and three year olds as well as aged horses.  Gold events would be held at the Meadowlands, while silver events would be conducted at Freehold Raceway.  The New Jersey fair circuit would be resurrected for the NJSF Bronze divisions.  The fair circuit races would be non-wagering events which would be conducted at training farms and at the Meadowlands and Freehold.  Why bring back a fair circuit which was eliminated due to expense?  A fair circuit would provide the means to expose harness racing to a new generation in a non-threatening manner such as done at Goshen and encourage interest in New Jersey yearlings as it would provide an opportunity for owners of not ready for prime time horses to recoup some of  their expenses.      

No, it is not the 142 days the Meadowlands and the 168 days Freehold is racing in 2010, but without a subsidy, there is no way the purse account can support these many days.  By racing a calendar similar to the one proposed here, horsemen will be racing for meaningful purses and offering a product worth wagering on, not only in New Jersey, but elsewhere. 


Anonymous said...

An interesting proposal.

Scott Jeffreys said...

Dear Pacingguy : You have to be cheered by your blog readers for a creative idea to guide New Jersey in 2011. A couple of questions that might help dive into a Part 2 on this blog entry :

[1] Why run 84 days at Freehold with only 58 days at the Meadowlands? If the goal of less is more will be to concentrate talent, why water down the Freehold meeting? Run a 25-to-30 day meeting in April/May as a run-up to the Meadowlands.

[2] How does the Meadowlands 50-day meeting stand up financially to the Pennsylvania threat (Chester/Pocono)? Have we reached the point where the Meadowlands plays hard ball by giving preference to those starters from the Meadowlands?

Sincerely, Scott

Pacingguy said...

Scott, there are a couple reasons for Freehold to race 84 days. First of all, it needs to be pointed out that their race dates would still be cut in half. Secondly, while not the premier track, racing as many days as I specified ensures NJ sired and foaled horses have sufficient racing opportunities, otherwise who is going to buy those Jersey horses who may not be stakes caliber?

I believe a 58-day meet at the Meadowlands would be able to compete with, or exceed the purse structure from Chester and Pocono. What I would do with the lower classes is restrict them to NJSF eligible horses. Hence, any races for $20,000 claimers or non-winners of $6,500cd or less would be restricted.