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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Jeff Gural Open Letter to Horsemen

Open Letter to all Owners and Trainers Racing in NY, NJ & PA


  As you know, the first twenty-nine days of the 2013 meet at the Meadowlands have been an overwhelming success.  The public has adapted to the classification system, along with the competitive style of racing full fields, etc. as our handle is up approximately 33%.  Last year we only had two days excluding the Hambletonian and Meadowlands Pace where the handle exceeded $3 Million dollars.  This year we already exceeded $3 Million dollars on thirteen occasions. 

  We are building a brand new grandstand as anyone who has visited the track can see.   I assure you it will be a first class facility and a place that you will be proud to come to with your family or other guests.

  That is the good news.

  The bad news is that because all of our income is derived from wagering and horse racing we need to continue to generate handles of over $3 Million dollars every Friday and Saturday.  In order to do that we require full fields and since we are only racing two days beginning next week essentially we need 250 horses each weekend to fill both cards. Last weekend we had twenty-five fewer horses racing over the weekend and as a result our handle declined by $508,000. 

  As we all know with Chester opening last week and Pocono opening in another week, in order for those two tracks to fill their cards they would probably need to have a minimum of an extra 1,000 horses assuming both tracks race four days a week as scheduled and thirteen or fourteen races per night which seems to be their plan. 

  Since both these tracks, as well as Yonkers, derive the majority of their purse money from casino gambling they often have purses equal or better than ours and most people think it is easier to win at those tracks as long as you do not draw too many eight or nine holes.  I understand all that but the Meadowlands cannot survive without having full fields and competitive races. The last two months have shown that the product is extremely popular with the people who wager on standardbred racing.  In fact, on a typical Saturday night 40% of all the money bet at US tracks is wagered on our product.

  To be blunt, I need the industry to step up and support the Meadowlands which may not be the best business decision for everyone in the short term but, in my opinion, the industry needs a healthy Meadowlands and we deserve the support of the industry. 

  The other option would be for us to drastically reduce the stakes program which I think would help increase our overnight purses but would have a very negative impact on the industry because our stakes program is vital to support the breeding industry.  It also serves to attract new customers by showcasing our best horses and creating the kind of excitement we see for our major races.  This will be especially true when we move into the new building. Currently we use 25% of our purse money to fund the stakes program approximately $4,200,000 while our competitors are typically using 10-12%. 

  To be honest, I am not sure there are enough horses for all of the race days that are scheduled at Chester, Pocono, Yonkers, Dover and the Meadowlands.  It would seem at some point it should be addressed as the number of mares bred and yearlings born each year continues to decline significantly.  Common sense would tell you that this has to have an impact and that race days have to start to come down.  The bottom line is we cannot survive without full fields as we get killed when we have six or seven horse races no matter what the quality is.  We struggled to fill the card with short fields the last two weekends and Pocono is not open yet. 

  One possibility would be to work with Pocono and Chester and try to come up with a schedule that would allow all of us to have full fields and quality racing.  One suggestion was to lower the purses in December, January and February when there is an oversupply of horses and increase the purses when the Pennsylvania tracks reopen.  Another option that we might consider is a loyalty program whereby we create a formula that allows preference to those horsemen who support us in the spring and summer when we are racing the fall and winter meet. 

  I would rather see the industry support us on a voluntary basis as I think it is in everyone’s best interest that we continue to provide the type of product we have been providing for the last two and a half months.  Hopefully I can count on your support.


Jeff Gural


Anonymous said...

While I fully support Jeff and his efforts at improving the harness industry, he seems to try these letters and meetings with the drivers and trainers a little too much for my liking. I think he is running the risk of being tuned out. "Begging" for business isn't the best approach in my book. If those who enter horses at Pocono/Philly/Yonkers don't have the foresight on their own to see why supporting the Big M is in their own best long-term interest then they will be the ones who suffer in the end. Jeff Gural can survive just fine without owning the Meadowlands.

Pacingguy said...

I don't think he is running the risk of being tuned out. He's not really begging. He is gently reminding horsemen of the importance of supporting the Meadowlands, with a thinly vieled threat that next winter, those who totally abandon the Meadowlands may need to find somewhere else to race November-February next year or sit on the sidelines; something I see nothing wrong with. If you aren't willing to sacrifice, why should you get the benefits?

Anonymous said...

Horsemen should race there because they have horses that are suited to The Meadowlands and fit a particular class; they would be foolish to race there in the HOPE that someday The Meadowlands MIGHT have slots and that those slots will generate so much income that purses will be still be high, despite Gural only offering about 5% to the horsemen (much less than other jurisdictions). As far as the "importance" of stake racing, well, that may matter to some of the (already) wealthy players in the industry, but why should the "regular" folk make "sacrifices" so that a bunch of very rich guys can have MORE money for stakes come summertime?

Pacingguy said...

I am not sure about offering the horsemen 5% of any slot revenue but remember, he has already offered to pay the state one of the highest tax levels and some of the slot money has to go to Monmouth Park (and possibly Freehold Raceway), it is not all going to the standardbred horsemen.

As for the important to stakes racing, it should be important to the "regular" folk, that is unless trainers want to change careers. That stakes racing is what keeps the breeding industry going. With the number of foals being born every year declining to critical levels, what are trainers going to be training (and for that fact owners owning)? Racing pigs? In that case, be prepared for purses to be paid in Oreos.

Of course horsemen should race there because they have a horse that can be competitive there, if they aren't that makes for bad racing. The problem is those who are competitive are deserting house as well.

While you don't earn the biggest purses at the Meadowlands, you don't do too shabby there either. If horsemen don't want to race there in the HOPE that slots MAY be there, they shouldn't complain if they find the welcome mat pulled in when they come knocking, wanting to race.

Anonymous said...

Your doom and gloom scenario regarding the breeding industry is a total stretch. There's still PLENTY of money available at places other than The Meadowlands, and if it closed tomorrow, I doubt you'd see any significant change in the amount of mares bred - you just might see a different group of breeders (like in Ohio?) begin to pick up the slack. And as more tracks figure to be closing, the industry would need less foals anyway!