Freehold Raceway opens tomorrow and already there seems to be a problem with filling races. While the opening day has ten races with eight starters, Friday and Saturday has eleven races each with numerous seven horse fields, meaning the entry box is not exactly overflowing. If we need proof of this, the SBOANJ is reminding horsemen that there are entry opportunities at Freehold and if you enter there is a 'high probability if you enter, you will race'; never a good sign when you are starting a race meet especially when you are racing only three days a week. Of course, this is no coincidence as Chester Downs opens a week from Friday and horsemen and their owners are eyeing higher purse opportunities there. Make no mistake, if Chester opened this week, the opening weekend card would look a lot worse.
I know the answer already and the reason why, but I need to ask. Does anyone invest in their long term future anymore, or is it all about now?
We know Freehold Raceway will reap the advantages of slot machines in a few years when a casino opens at the Meadowlands; this assuming there is still a Freehold Raceway around. Everyone also knows the quickest route for Freehold's demise is the inability to fill their races as unfilled races leads to even smaller handles which translates into mounting losses for Penwood Racing. At some point, Penwood is going to say 'Enough' and shut Freehold down, possibly for good.
Then, when the slot money is ready to be divied up and horsemen with the 'not ready for the Meadowlands' racing stock are looking for racing opportunities, there may not be a local option; especially as Harrisburg is already clawing back slot revenue from the Pennsylvaina tracks, unknown at which point the Pennsylvania government will stop. Then, the owners and horsemen alike will be bemoaning the lack of racing opportunities in New Jersey wondering what they have done.
I will say one thing about the SOANY, they were able to convince their horsemen and owners to keep the races filled at Yonkers Raceway when they lacked slot machines. Granted, the quality was inferior to what is racing there now; with purses starting at $2,500 (Freehold's minimum is $2,300), but they kept filling those races. Yes, they sacrificed, but they kept the track going, buying time until slots eventually came to New York. Now the New York horsemen are reaping the rewards of keeping the track open.
You may say the Rooneys were going to keep the track going anyway hoping for slots to come, but you can't say for sure. If Yonkers had short fields and suffered from a continuing decline in handle and mounting losses they may have gone out of business. Remember, it wasn't soon after Brandywine Raceway closed that Delaware approved slots. Each track operator has their own threshold for saying 'enough'. Do you really want to gamble what Penwood's threshold is?
I know everyone is saying let the other guy be the one that takes one for the team and continue to race at Freehold, but there is one problem; everyone is saying that. You are the other guy.
I earlier asked, "Does anyone invest in their long term future anymore, or is it all about now?" Sadly, the answer is now. There will be regrets if Freehold closes, but no pity from me for the owners and horsemen who down the road bemoan the lack of local racing opportunities for their cheaper stock.
Meadowlands Quietly Makes Changes for the Customer: Derrick Giwner in his blog talks about his race calling debut at the Meadowlands on Thursday evening. In addition, he goes into changes being made to improve the customer experience at the track. Sometimes it is the smaller things which matter; at least it shows the customer is appreciated.