Assuming the Meadowlands will need to cut back their stakes program next year, I would like to suggest the first two races to be cancelled are the Merrie Annabelle and the Peter Haughton Memorial. The $175,000 in added money for these two races could be used for better purposes. The next two races to cut should be the Sweetheart and Woodrow Wilson where by eliminating those two races, you save another $200,000 in added money making it $375,000 which can be used for better purposes.
Hambletonian Day 2010 was the perfect illustration of the foolishness of offering high value stakes race for two year olds; particularly this early in the two year old campaign. On the day we present arguably the best harness racing program in North America, the industry offers the general public junk races.
In the Merrie Annabelle, four of the nine horses competing broke stride. I can't say this quartet broke stride during the race because Hey Mister, Tango Dancer, and Medusa Blue Chip were actually eliminated from competition before the race even started; Medusa Blue Chip breaking so early you couldn't even see her in the video replay at any time. Of the quartet of breakers, only Grace Marie found herself involved in the race at any point, breaking on the lead after the first quarter. As a result, one third of the field never made it to the point where the starter said 'Go' and 44.4% of the field went off stride overall in the race.
The Peter Haughton Memorial was not as bad. Only one horse, Orlando, went off stride before the race began, with Evil Urges and Broad Bahn (by interference), jumping off shortly after the race began and Whit galloping before the quarter pole. The net result being only 40% of the betting interests went off stride.
Those of us experienced in harness racing understand the pitfalls of racing two year olds; two year old trotters in particular. Breaking horses are to be expected. This is why two year old races are so poorly supported by the betting public. But what about the casual bettor or new fan we are trying to attract? Certainly they can't be too pleased about seeing their horse go up in smoke before the starter says 'Go'. Try to explain to them it is perfectly normal to see young horses going off stride and while you are at it, explain to them why they lose their wager on a horse that never made it to the starting pole.
How can we present $437,000 and $500,000 races to the wagering public consisting of horses so inexperienced that we have almost half the field going off stride in a race? These are stake races? It would be one thing if races like this were held in the fall so the entrants would have more starts under their belt, but it is ridiculous to have horses making their first (if you consider the elimination), second or third starts in a race of this magnitude.
Think of what could be done with the $375,000 saved by eliminating the big four two year old races at the Meadowlands? The money could be used to see stakes races for four year olds and up, help support the overnight racing program, or better yet, used to help fund a program designated to re-engineer the sport in New Jersey or nationally; anything but wasting the money on two year olds, especially this early in their careers.
The conventional wisdom has been we need to offer races like the Peter Haughton and Merrie Annabelle in order to encourage the purchase of yearlings; the feeling being without the prospect of winning races like these, people wouldn't invest in yearlings. Owners can still race for big purses if they want. If the Merrie Annabelle and Peter Haughton were raced without the added money, the races would have been contested for $398,000 and $400,000 respectively. There is nothing stopping owners from racing two year olds in big money events this early in their racing career.
Let them race for their own money, and as non-wagering events so we don't attempt to pass off these races as something worthy of our gambling customers' attention.
As you know, Governor Christie has decided to go 'all in' on keeping Atlantic City alive to the detriment of the racing indusstry in New Jersey. As part of of this strategy, he has ruled out putting a racino in the Meadowlands, meaning millions of dollars in tax revenue generated by New Jersey residents is being given to New York and Pennsylvania as people are heading to these two states instead of traveling to Atlantic City. The Record, has published a report which suggests it is too late for Atlantic City. Atlantic City has had over thirty years the opportunity to prosper and become a destination city for gambling. Instead, it remains a city in blight wrought with crime. The city of Atlantic City, the state of New Jersey, and the casinos have failed Atlantic City residents. The opportunity to restore Atlantic City to its crown jewel beauty of old is likely lost forever as a result of the commoditization of casino gambling.
Make no mistake, the racing industry has had made mistakes. What I would like the Governor to do is tell people why he is willing to give the casino industry a 'do over' which is partially self-inflicted yet unwilling to give racing the same opportunity to fix their own house. There has got to be a way to give both industries a chance to recover. To tell one industry their demise will come from capitalism yet violate the rules of capitalism for the benefit of another industry is pure hypocrisy. Either you help both industries or you let them each fend for themselves.