Some people are trying to figure out why the racing at the Meadowlands has been so poor this fall meet in general and this past weekend in particular. Some thought it was a case of the pool of horses available while Chester, Pocono, and Yonkers are still racing. Others thought it was a question of the purse account running low and the Meadowlands couldn't afford purses for a better level of horse until next year.
Let me offer an alternate theory. This weekend was part of a dress rehearsal, a trial of sorts to see how wagering on the Meadowlands' racing product would hold up if this type of overnight racing will is offered next year. Certainly the handle would be lower than normal, but would it be enough to support the potential purse structure for next year? Granted, the daily purse distributions ($94,900 for Friday's nine races; $106,800 for Saturday's ten races) are lower than the talked about average daily purse structure of $123,500 mentioned if no subsidy is forthcoming, but some days the handle will be less; others more. I will leave it to others to analyze whether or not the wagering would support this type of purse distribution. What we can discuss is the amount of money wagered on these two past race cards. I can tell you the handle is down significantly when compared to a 'typical' Friday or Saturday night.
There is no way to do a direct comparison of these dates against similar dates last year as the Meadowlands did not have a fall meet; the last being in 2008 and even then, similar nights were Breeders Crown nights. So the best we can do is compare the wagering against dates earlier this year when Chester, Pocono and Yonkers were racing and there were no major stakes races on the cards.
Friday night's nine race card had a total handle of $1,533,329.00 and Saturday night's ten race card had a total handle of $1,617.00. How does this compare against other Friday and Saturday nights? Let's take a look. On Friday, May 7 of this year, the second weekend Chester Downs was open, there was a ten race card where the handle was $2,347,954 and on May 8, the twelve race handle was $2,906,130. Now, the races in the spring were higher caliber than this past weekend's races, which of course encourages higher gambling so some discrepancy is expected. To make the comparison easier, let's look at the average handle per race.
Handle Per Race
Friday, May 7 Friday, Nov 12 Difference Saturday, May 8 Saturday, Nov 13 Difference
$234,795.40 $170,369.89 -28% $242,177.50 $161,719.70 -33%
As you can see, the drop in handle per race is significant. Obviously, the handle this past weekend would have been greater were the caliber of racing been better but the fact is without a subsidy, the racing we saw this past weekend may be as good as it gets next year. This is not to say there won't be weekends where the racing won't be better; you will have NJSS and some stakes races thrown into the mix but I wouldn't expect anything better than $30,000 claimers, nw3cd and nw10000L5 in conditioned races, and a much weaker Open on a regular basis in the overnights if no subsidy is forthcoming. A gloomy, if not frightening prospect indeed.
So where would this put the Meadowlands racing product in regards to overall quality? Using the parimutuel tracks in the DE, NJ, NY, and PA area as a guide, I would rank the tracks as follows:
Tier 1 - Chester Downs and Yonkers Raceway
Tier 2 - Dover Downs and The Meadows
Tier 3 - Harrington Raceway, The Meadowlands and Pocono Downs
Tier 4 - Saratoga Raceway and Tioga Downs
Tier 5 - Freehold Raceway, Monticello Raceway and Vernon Downs
Tier 6 - Batavia Raceway and Buffalo Raceway
Of course, if we included WEG's race meets into the mix, Mohawk and Woodbine would fall into Tier 1. With Ontario's plans to keep the better horses racing at WEG tracks and the arrival of former Meadowlands horses who are unable to race on a half mile track; the level of competition at Woodbine will be much stronger this winter.
Pray that somehow subsidies are forthcoming for 2011 or else it may be a very gloomy year.