Now that the Meadowlands is saved, people have some misconceptions regarding racing in New Jersey and the Meadowlands in particular. The very same people who were praising Jeff Gural coming in to save the Meadowlands are now critical as they are not seeing racing return to the way it was back in 1980. So let's do a reality check and clear up some misconceptions.
Jeff Gural is not Midas, and contrary to what some people say, everything he touches does not turn to gold. However, with Jeff Gural, harness racing has someone willing to do his best to save harness racing and is willing to invest in the sport.
Jeff Gural is not just a casino operator. He has a breeding farm and invests in racehorses like many horsemen. Yes, he owns Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs because he was able to open racinos. . However, he supports racing. There are backstretches at Tioga and Vernon Downs; how many tracks have closed their backstretches? You go to Tioga and Vernon Downs you know where the racetrack is; it is not hidden as it is at some racinos.
Jeff Gural and his partners have leased the Meadowlands hoping the track gets slots. What is the crime in that? Show me a person who opens a racetrack without a prospect of slots and I will show you a fool about to go bankrupt. While the racing model is broken; not only does racing not make sense without slots, but operating a racetrack without slots doesn't make sense either. How would racing in New Jersey look if it all depended on Freehold Raceway's success?
Yes, the press release issued by the SBOANJ yesterday talking about the upcoming season at the Meadowlands was an effort to improve the price of NJ-sired yearlings being sold at Lexington and Harrisburg. Yes, some of the stakes races being moved to the Meadowlands are open stakes, but they are races that two and three year olds can enter so someone can take a mid-level NJ-sired horse and race at the Meadowlands and make money instead of being eaten alive in Pennsylvania or New York. The Reynolds and the Simpson stakes being moved to the Meadowlands are minor stakes, but stakes where horses can make money. The top three year olds will continue doing what they are doing now, making short stops at the Meadowlands and then return to Pennsylvania and go fishing for the best races races in Canada. However, a program is being set up for the second string NJ-sired horses who have few racing options elsewhere.
The NJSS has stunk for years and will continue to stink for the foreseeable future. There are only two legs of eliminations before the $175,000 final. However, the sire stakes is not magically going to improve. Where does the NJSS revenue come from? A percentage of the takeout and fees from NJ-sired horses. With wagering at the Meadowlands decreased and almost negligible at Freehold and less NJ-sired horses being produced, what is going to make the NJSS become more lucrative? Hopefully, over time it will improve. The program is bolstered by races the SBOANJ sponsors.
The Meadowlands was able to attract horses it had no business based on handle to attract thanks to subsidies from Atlantic City. With those subsidies gone, what you saw last year are the horses the handle deserved to attract. With no new revenue sources next year, why would anyone expect the racing quality to improve. The best horses will be racing in Pennsylvania and New York. What would make people think that all of a sudden your best horses will race at the Meadowlands next year? The goal of the Meadowlands is to stabilize its horse population and while not attracting the best racing in the country, offer a race program which is still attractive to wagering and offer bettable races.
No, the number of racing dates will not increase. You can't get away from the fact purses are determined by the purse account divided by the number of days you race. You can offer $7,500 purses for $10,000 claimers or double the number of race dates and have those $10,000 claimers race for $3,750.
Gural is trying some new programs to attract people to the track; including making it a family event. We see how current marketing plans work; they don't, so what is the harm of trying something new; can it hurt? After all, I don't see anyone breaking down the fences getting into other tracks.
Gural does believe in horsemen contributing to efforts to improve the business. Many horsemen say it should be up to the track to improve the business without their help. Newsflash: horsemen contributed to the mess, so they should help dig the sport out of the mess it is in. Track operators didn't screw things up on their own.
People are comparing the Meadowlands to the existing business model and says the idea for the Meadowlands will not work. Correction, the current business model doesn't work. If racetracks had to operate without slot revenue the races would be going for $1,700 to $5,000 purses so those who represent these tracks should not be sitting there so smug. At least the Meadowlands can race $10,000 claimers on their handle. At most tracks, if they had no slot revenue they will be racing $2,000 claimers.
Improving the Meadowlands is going to take time. The goal right now is stabilization. Get racing stabilized and then work on new programs to get new people to the track; yes that six letter word, families. What age were you when you got involved in racing? If not introduced as a youngster, there is a good chance you are not going to develop new gamblers. Once slots come to the Meadowlands, not a certain thing, then purses can escalate along with race dates and then surrounding states will once again be hurting with regards to racing.
Lastly, New Jersey racing is a mess. It doesn't turn around overnight. It takes time to rebuild the racing program in the state. Time will tell if Gural's team can pull it off. At least he is willing to try. I didn't see anyone else step up and try to save New Jersey racing. When people put their time and money up to solve the problem they can have a seat at the table and decide how things should go. It's easy to be critical when you have no skin in the game.
You can be part of the solution or part of the problem. Make your choice and be ready to live with the consequences of your decision.