It's no secret that Jeff Gural and his team at the Meadowlands (and other racing properties) has been doing their best in providing the best in harness racing. Of course, with purse money being solely a factor of wagering, even being the highest wagered harness track in the United States it is hard to attract horses to race at the Meadowlands thanks to tracks racing almost exclusively on slot money. As a result, the focus has been on providing a product with integrity, ruling off trainers and even owners who don't cut the grade for various reasons. While in the long run providing a product with the highest standards may be the way to go, it appears management is paying the price for its integrity drive in the short term.
It's no secret the Meadowlands has been scrambling all year to put on racing programs; holding the entry box open longer, adding classes, and cavorting trainers to enter horses. No doubt the about to expire classified system has hurt this year, but to blame it on the classified system alone would be unfair, after all last year there was no problem filling winter races using the classified system,, So where has things fallen of the rail?
The incentive program has hurt to some degree, smaller stables finding themselves unable to take advantage due to the racing stock they had last year didn't fit the classes offered or the fact they lacked the sheer number of horses to make the necessary starts. Certainly, the 10% purse cut recently put in place has put a damper on things as well. But perhaps the biggest culprit has been the exclusion of certain trainers from competing at the Meadowlands.
Perhaps the thought was once a trainer was shown the door, owners would seek out new trainers to compete in New Jersey. However, owners have not done that on any wholesale level; either because the charges against their trainers were 'vague'; they were loyal to the trainers; or they 'don't want to know' what was going on as long as they are successful. Of course, purses matter as well. Why race your $12,500 claimer at the Meadowlands for $7,000 when you can race the same horse at Yonkers for $9,000 and only have to beat three horses to earn a check? Not quite an incentive to switch to an approved trainer in East Rutherford.
So now with the input of the SBOANJ, the incentive program has been cancelled and conditioned racing returns. Hopefully, this will make it easier to fill the entry box as it will give trainers an incentive to head over the bridge to compete in races they feel their horses will do well in as well as offer more claiming events.
One thing the Meadowlands should not do is lessen their demand for integrity for in the long run, it will win out. As for the customers, they can vote for integrity by supporting the Meadowlands at the windows.