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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Brave New World at the Meadowlands

Many people are complaining about the quality of racing at the Meadowlands, especially when compared to tracks like Yonkers, Chester, and Pocono Downs.  They take objection to the trainers and drivers who abandoned the Meadowlands for these other outposts, and lament the caliber of the revised driving and training colony.  Well complaining about it is not going to change a darn thing; it's a whole new world at the Meadowlands and the sooner people accept it; the better off we will all be.

The fact is for at least a couple of years, until exchange wagering gets fully implemented and the OTW network is built out, the Meadowlands will not be the track we remember from its heyday.  It is simple math.  If you have no subsidy and no slot revenue, you have less money to pay for purses.  This is the number one reason they are racing only 80 days this year instead of the normal 141 days (Chicago Horsemen would be wise to learn this lesson), to make the money last.  Hopefully as new innovative steps are taken in gambling and these other revenue sources begin to trickle in, the quality of racing will improve.

Horse owners, and trainers are greedy and look out for their best interests.  Yes, they all say the Meadowlands needs to be saved, but for the most part, they mean someone else needs to sacrifice for the Meadowlands' benefit.  Quite honestly, can you blame them?  If you owned a horse that could compete in a $30,000 purse race or a $60,000 race and the additional traveling required is minimal, where are you going to race?  For the owners and trainers, it is about making money and they don't care where it comes from.  As for the drivers, it is a little more difficult decision.  Does the king of the hill at a smaller track make the move and become a little fish in the big pond?  Many drivers have fled the Meadowlands, some have remained.  Complain all you want, but it is human nature and to expect people to act otherwise is not realistic.

There is no sense at being angry with the Chester, Pocono, and Yonkers race offices for putting on races with unrealistic purses; they are required to spend the money they are.  No, it is not being derived the old fashion way by handle which is a problem, but until the state legislatures decide to reign in slot revenue or New Jersey decides to let the racetracks get into the casino business (and I am still not convinced any future gaming will end up in the Meadowlands), it's the way it is going to be.  The only way things are going to even out is if Chester and Pocono decided to extend their meets considerably; something Harrah's won't do and Mohegan Sun can't do due to the extended winter in the Poconos.

The Meadowlands has one thing going for it.  It has handle.  Yes, the day of the $3 million Saturday night handles may be gone for now, but the fact remains serious gamblers need handle to make it profitable to play.  Single pool wagering, if implemented will be able to address the sudden odds drops we experience which will make gamblers prefer the Meadowlands product.   Expect new wagering opportunities as the Gural team is dedicated to changing the way wagering is conducted and they may introduce new wagers that gain the interest of gamblers.

But what about the racing stock?  The Meadowlands stakes program may be somewhat scaled back, but it will still have one of the strongest stakes programs around which will attract the better horses.  The concept of the mini-series which the Meadowlands has employed lately to fill cards may be able to attract horses who are willing not race for the big money week one, but they want the opportunity to show up for that pot of money for the 'final'.  I don't know about you, I rather wager on lower conditioned field where everyone has to try their best to qualify for next week's lucrative race than a field of high conditioned races for which this week's race is just another race.  The point is the Meadowlands may not initially have the highest quality racing, but it is sure to have some of the most competitive racing, something gamblers want.

Then there is the drivers.  Yes, many of the big name drivers have or will defect to the slot tracks, but at a risk of showing my age, I remember the days when the question being asked was who were these John Campbell and William O'Donnell guys?  Who was Greg Wright, Ray Remmen, Ted Wing, Jim Doherty, and other drivers who came in from all these other tracks?  The point being who knows who of these new drivers showing up will be able to fill the vacuum left and become new stars?  Those that can adapt to the Meadowlands will stay and thrive, those who can't will head back home and don't kid yourself, the Meadowlands will still be offering some of the more lucrative purses in the industry so a new generation of drivers will look at the Meadowlands as an opportunity.

The point is when the Meadowlands opened in 1976, no one knew how it would work out.  I recall the $10,000 and $15,000 claimers which made up race cards even on a Saturday night.  The first time racing was occurring on a nightly basis on the mile track for any extended meet.  New drivers, new trainers; it was different.

Worrying about what has happened is a futile exercise.  What has happened has happened and it is best to accept it.  But in the same vein, a brave new world will be coming to the Meadowlands once the new lease is signed.  Let's relish the excitement and potential rather than lament what has been.

Mullins Nailed Big Time:  Jeff Mullins, the troubled thoroughbred trainer has had the book thrown at him by the CHRB.  He needs to serve a 70 day suspension for violating terms of probation.  What is different about this?  He can't just transfer the stable to another trainer; he needs to in effect disolve his stable; give up all his stall space and more.  Wouldn't it be great if we could do that in harness racing?


The_Knight_Sky said...

Do you have an answer for why there are 12-13-14 races on a single card?

This ain't the Dover Downs racing factory. And therein lies the flaw.

9 race card on the weekdays and 10 race cards on Saturdays and Sundays should be the max.

The purses could be / should be bolstered for the better overnight races through the paring down process (in the short-term).

Pacingguy said...

I am not sure what the contract with the SBOANJ calls for with regards to number of races on a given day, but often to cut days tracks agree to add races to make up for racing opportunities.

My personal preference would be 10 races on weekdays and 12 races on weekends.

As for this series they had this passt weekend for nw6500cd; if I was racing secretary, I would probably have moved two divisions to Sunday to bolster the Sunday card.

Anonymous said...

My greatest worry is that once the bettors are gone they will never come back period. Why was last Saturday's Big M handle so weak? Judging by the NY/PA tracks pools they aren't betting those tracks either. Are we really to believe that a few years down the road with more OTW's etc. that all will be right in the world again? I'm just not sure that I see it happening.

Pacingguy said...

Well, let's not kid ourselves, harness racing has problems which go past the Meadowlands and the Meadowlands is certainly not immune to the problems. However, let me ask you this, how much promotion is taking place regarding the Meadowlands this year? Zilch. Unless you are a blog reader or someone who looks at the USTA or SC website, there is a good chance you didn't even know the Meadowlands was racing.

I never said OTWs and exchange wagering will make all right in the world, but they will be additional sources of revenue that the Meadowlands does not have now.

All I am suggesting is that racing at the Meadowlands will be better than it is now. Racing must fix its problems if it wishes to remain relevant in the gaming industry.