Finally, I made it to the Meadowlands for live racing last night to finally see for myself what changes are being made at the North Jersey racetrack. If I had to sum up my impressions in three words, it would be "A New Attitude', but it would be doing a great disservice in describing what is going on.
You notice a change from the moment you walk into the track. Admission now includes a program (which explains the $2 fee). As you enter the grandstand, programs are distributed by department heads at the track who greet you upon arrival so you start off right away realizing this is not the same old Meadowlands. You will also see during the night, management making their rounds through out the facility.
Let me state here, while definite changes have been made, they are somewhat hampered by the old building. Considering the size of today's crowds, the grandstand appears cavernous and there is nothing you can really do about it. Nothing can be really done until the new grandstand is ready. That being said, you can tell things have definitely changed.
On the standee level, you see the new concessions in place. They are very clean with condiments and plasticware displayed neat and orderly. The food quality is good with prices seemingly reasonable; some items are lower priced than they were before (with friendlier service). Cleanliness seems to be a high priority as the floors were not only clean, but waxed and the restrooms, something which has deteriorated over the years, are now well maintained with them being checked every fifteen minutes.
In the New York Times, an article about the medication of horses on race day is a timely story. In the article, the author who is a veterinarian speaks on how lasix is a performance enhancer.
With regards to wagering, there seemed to be fewer live tellers available but there is no problem with placing bets as banks of self service tellers having been added on both sides of the floor. The self service machines are also being used as a marketing tool as machines not actively being used display various screens showing upcoming promotional events which was never done when the NJSEA was in charge. In addition, to encourage the use of self service machines, there are random vouchers handed out for hot dogs, soda, and coffee for those who bet exactas on the machines. Membership in the Big M club is encouraged by having a swipe and win contest where you can win betting vouchers just for swiping your Big M card.
As been my experience in the past, the grandstand level was pretty empty (a little bit more due to the Memorial Day Holiday), but there was a definite mood change from previous years. In the past when you made it to the grandstand level you felt like you were in a mausoleum; not this year. There was definitely an upbeat feeling abounding, as if people knew last year the track hit rock bottom and people knew things were on their way backup. This is when I noticed the roving ticket sellers who walk around the facility (grandstand level, standee level, and out on the apron). Rather than just standing or walking around, the mobile ticket seller went to individuals to explain their service and what they offered as well as letting you know they were available for you to use. Wanting to see if the sound system was better up in the grandstand (always a problem), I noticed there was not the familiar sound of silence between races, as music was being played. The music wouldn't distract someone from handicapping, but it helped make the night more entertaining.
Another thing learned while walking through the facility is the new operators discovered something long abandoned by the NJSEA, it's called paint. Painting has occurred throughout the facility to spruce things up. Remember, everything is perception and if you have a run down facility what kind of image do you think it is going to present?
Over in Paddock Park, there was some entertainment at Kahuna Wedge; activities during the night. including a visit by Eric Abbatiello to sign photos of himself and to assist in constructing a Pick 4 ticket. Over by the track itself there were some activities, including a t-shirt toss and a contest where you buy a rubber horse (for charity) and attempt to throw it in the car for a chance to win a $100 betting voucher and any entry a drawing for a new car at the end of the meet. Basically, they try to engage the whole family when you come to the track.
The key is going to be getting people out to the track to see the changes. Many people, having been turned off by the old facility and a decade of neglect may not be coming out to the track so quickly. People who show up only for the Hambletonian will no doubt be pleased with the changes, but unfortunately, that isn't until the end of the meet approaches. If people can be induced to come to the track, they will be impressed and hopefully become repeat customers. It may not be until the new grandstand opens and the curious decide to check things out that attendance will improve greatly.
All I can say is for those who live close enough to the Meadowlands, you should make a visit should come out to the track. You will be pleasantly surprised.