|Gallo Blue Chip 'cutting' the ribbon.|
Parking was a bit of a challenge as some signage was missing but that will be forthcoming shortly. Parking is laid out well though the facility could contain a little more handicapped parking. As you can imagine, the regular lot was filled to the brim an hour before post time but not to worry, there was an overflow lot and shuttle buses were running constantly. Yes, there is one road in/out to the facility which is a change from the past but while some people were complaining, I chalk that up to opening night curiosity. With overflow parking and shuttle buses available, there shouldn't be a big problem and come Hambletonian Day, I suspect even more parking will be available.
|The start of the first race.|
My biggest complaint was the place was too crowded, at least initially. I was up in The Lounge area in the Grandstand and the place was packed like sardines making it hard to walk around. Then again, I don't know how many brave souls were going to sit outside in the outdoor seats in with the wind blowing pretty solid and snow squalls coming through at times, one time causing near white out conditions. However, let's be realistic, once the curiosity factor has been satisfied, we will likely find the building is right-sized. It does make you wonder what will happen on a day like Hambletonian Day, but let's not kid ourselves, you can't build a facility which holds 25,000 which you will need one day a year.
|First race winner Alexie Mattosie (David Miller)|
Once the crowd thinned out, I realized The Lounge is a cool place to hang out. There is carpeting and lounge chairs all around, making it a very relaxed atmosphere; as if you were hanging out with friends in your living room. I belong to a group and I am already talking to them about having an outing there (once the initial curiosity seekers are gone.
Betting was easy. Those who use self-wagering machines will have no problem. The tellers were busy but the lines were not ridiculous though you did run the risk of being shut out. Not that there weren't enough tellers, if you remember the old facility there really weren't more tellers available either, they were just spread out in the larger facility. I for one had no problem as I took advantage of the traveling tellers with the yellow vests. I would suggest if you don't want to risk getting shut out and you have a smart phone, take an advantage of the ability to wager from your phone. You go to the teller at the start of the day, make a deposit and get your pin number and you wager from the comfort of your own seat and at the end of the night you go to the teller and collect your winnings.
The indoors grandstand seats were comfortable with drink holders and more importantly, the rows are not like the ones at Freehold Raceway. You can sit comfortably and actually get up and get out of your seats without being a gymnast. Best of all, there is no charge for seats Above the windows in the lounge grandstand seating area are monitors which show the Meadowlands races and in between shows various races from simulcast tracks as post time approached so if you have a desire to bet on other tracks you may follow the action from the comfort of your seat.
Later in the evening, I took a look at the Sports Bar/Night Club and it looks great. This should be popular with the younger generation looking for something to do after the races and even on non-racing nights. Let's face it, this building is designed to generate income and that is key to building any new facility these days. Buildings need to be multifaceted, used on days when they are not being used for their primary function. Plans are for the bars and restaurants to be open on non-racing days and with the Meadowlands allowed to have concerts when the rest of the complex is not having concerts and a partnership with Hard Rock Cafe, except to see concerts at the track on dark days.
Many of us are not fine-dining people, our idea of food is grabbing a burger or hot dog and going back to our handicapping.. The burgers are made fresh and somewhat surprisingly, there are no hot dogs. No hot dogs at a sporting event? There is a method to their madness. the whole idea is whether you are someone who eats in their upscale restaurants or a person who grabs a bite at the concession stands, you are entitled to decent food, not the same old gruel typically served at racetracks. That being said, if there is enough demand for frankfurters, they probably will return. However, before screaming for that hot dog, I would try their other menu items first. I for one was pleased with the food offerings for I am a vegetarian and in the past my typical dinner was an order of fries. Now they actually have vegetarian offerings. I found the prices reasonable (though taxes are added to the price, not included as in the past).
Bottom line is the track is geared to the younger generations, those who embrace technology and want an upscale experience In some ways you can say the new Meadowlands is like a casino without casino games. The place is comfortable, upscale yet homey. That being said, those resisting smart phones or even cell phones will still find the track appealing. Maybe a little more signage could be added, especially in the parking area but that will be coming. From what I have seen thus far (the outdoor section known as the "Outfield' still is being built), I would grade the new facility an 'A' for the younger, tech savvy crowd. Those who resist things like cell phones will probably rank the track a "B-", availing themselves of the more traditional parts of the track instead of the modern sections. I expect those looking to build racetracks in the future will be stopping by to see how this facility was built.
If you are in the area, you need to give Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment a try, it's worth the visit. Of course, the bottom line is how many first-time visitors will return? Management appears to be on the right track.
As for the racing, I plead ignorance. I was so in awe of the new facility, that I didn't pay all that much attention to the racing. From what I did see, it is going to take a little time to see how racing plays out on the track, let's face it final quarters of 32 seconds is not what we are used to. Contrary to what some people say, it will take a week or two for the drivers to figure the optimum racing strategy; it's not as simple as starting a race in the old backstretch. The wind and how the turns are banked will all come into play.