Saturday night marks the return of harness racing to the Meadowlands and it is a big night of racing with fourteen races. Did I say that right? The constantly short of horses racetrack actually having fourteen races? Yes, six of the races have only nine horses competing but the other eight are full fields of ten.
Problem solved? Far from it. There are six races for non-winners of $6,000 in their last five starts and two non-winners of 2 races lifetime gracing the Saturday night program; races which in the 'good old days' would never have seen the light of day on a Saturday evening. All is not lost as the top FFA pacers and trotters do battles in their respective eliminations of the Graduate Series and Cutler Memorial. While the overnight races may not be classic Saturday night Meadowlands, the fact is they are back and serious harness gamblers looking for pools to wager into will not be looking at Chester or Pocono.
Technically, the meet will run through the month of May when conceivably racing can cease once again and perhaps for the final time until Hambletonian time as racing this month is going to be run like the winter meet, with the horsemen guaranteeing to repay the state for any shortfalls, but as I said before, barring any totally stupid moves by the thoroughbred or standardbred horsemen, I expect a lease with the Gural team to be signed by the end of the month as the question is 'when', not 'if'. Need proof? The introduction of a new summer late closing series was announced yesterday for 3yo pacers who non-winners of 2 races or $25,000 lifetime with a $100,000 final. Would they be planning series like this if there was any realistic doubt they would be racing this summer?
It is clear what the strategy for the balance of this year's meet is going to be. Other than stakes races, the quality will not be there this year. This new series is going to have three legs of races for $11,000 before the $100,000 final. Clearly these horses can race for more money on a weekly basis elsewhere, but the hope is to keep them at the Meadowlands for the three weeks in hopes of qualifying for a lucrative $100,000 final. Also, this week's six $11,000 non-winners of $6,500 in the last five starts have a condition that the highest money earners in the six divisions will return next week for a $30,000 race. Some are questioning why are they offering non-winners of $6,500 the option of racing for a $30,000 final? It is all part of the strategy to get the horses to East Rutherford for a chance at a mini-jackpot. Expect to see these types of racing all season long.
Let's face it, this year is going to be a lost year for the Meadowlands with the only success being the finalization of a lease with Jeff Gural's team. There is no advertising of the meet in the local papers, only constant stories of the life and death struggles. By the time new management takes possession of the meet, there will be roughly six weeks left so I would not be surprised to see if the rest of this year will be a case of taking their lumps until the new team has a chance to prepare a new campaign for next year where we may start seeing things turn around.
A programming note. The Meadowlands will have a special Mother Day's racing program this week with first post at 1:10pm.
Just in case you are wondering why I am not providing opening night selections for the Meadowlands, let me provide you a brief explanation. Based on my track record at the Meadowlands when they open and the fact they haven't been racing for a month there, I don't feel comfortable providing selections; perhaps with the exception of the Graduate and Cutler Memorial eliminations. If I can't be comfortable enough with my selections to play them, you're not going to see them from me. As the season goes on, you will get selections from me.
Another One Bites the Dust: We take no pleasure from the misfortune of horsemen in any breed, but in Michigan, Pinnacle Race Course voluntarily surrendered their 2011 license to conduct a thoroughbred meet when it became clear financial problems would result in the track losing their conditional license. With the loss of Pinnacle, thoroughbred horsemen in Michigan have no where to race except at Mount Pleasant Meadows which is a mixed breed (thoroughbred, quarterhorse, arabian) track. By voluntarily surrendering thier license, Pinnacle does have the option to reapply for 2012 dates once their fiscal house is in order. As for standardbred horsemen in Michigan taking delight in the runner's misfortune, may I remind you standardbred racing in Michigan is hanging on by a thread as well. The state is just not friendly to horse racing.
I can't help that once new management is in place at the Meadowlands, that new ideas will be tried which will resucitate horse racing in general, and that Michigan horsemen or all breeds will once again have a chance to race in their own state.