01/09/2014 1:00PM

Meadowlands thoughts for the New Year


Awakening from my December slumber, there is so much to write about. Let's focus on all things Meadowlands this time around, since let's face it, they are the straw that stirs the harness racing world.

The racing has been competitive yet strange since the start of the new meet on the flip side of the track. Any handicapper will look for patterns and the races at the Meadowlands simply aren’t providing much in the way of consistent occurrences. On some nights, mostly back in November and early December, the track started as speed-favoring and switched to a tiring track with a closers bias. Recently the surface seems more like a speedway, with unexplainable final times. Sweet Justice is a nice young trotter, but a 1:51 2/5 mile when it is 15 degrees outside seems like a head-scratcher. 

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I've heard two hypotheses on the Meadowlands track configuration that deserve at least a mention. First, that somehow the track distance is now less than one mile in circumference. As someone who watched the new grandstand erected step by step, I have a hard time with this theory. Is it possible that when the track crew re-banked the turns that the distance was shortened? Yeah, anything is possible. But even if the distance was a few feet short of one mile, that would hardly account for a major difference. Maybe horses would gain a length or two (1/5 to 2/5 of a second), but not multiple seconds.

The second presumption revolves around the distance from the start of the race to the first turn. I have to admit that from a visual standpoint, the first turn does appear to arrive sooner than when the horses started on the other side of the track. In addition, the number of horses which wind up parked out on the first turn and lose ground seems to be higher since the track switch. The conspiracy theorist inside me wonders why the track’s in-house show seems to take every opportunity to ask drivers and track crew in interviews about configuration in an effort to dispel the rumors. That makes me think that the track "doth protest too much." 

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter, I guess. As I tell my kids, you get what you get and you don't get upset. As handicappers we must figure out how to beat the odds. One professional player I spoke with told me he was projecting his first losing year at the Meadowlands since the 1990s. His reasoning was that he simply could not figure the place out since they switched sides. Perhaps if professionals are having trouble, that evens the playing field for the less knowledgeable player?

For me, there are two keys to winning at the Meadowlands, especially during the winter months:

1) You want a horse that is going to be close to the action. That doesn't mean on the lead, it means between first and third on the inside or first and maybe second over.

2) The second part goes hand and hand with the first . . . wanting a driver who is willing to be aggressive with any horse at any time. Of course Yannick Gingras is the leading driver because he gets good stock from trainer Ron Burke, but his success is also attributed to his knack for putting a horse in play if they have any chance of competing. You also see guys like Corey Callahan grabbing the bull by the horns lately and being more aggressive. That has helped him rank second in wins during the meet. Ron Pierce is another guy I want to play. He is always willing to take chances on the track and that has led to him being the only driver of the top 10 in wins during the current meet to have a positive ROI (84% according to Statsmaster). 

Looking at the second tier of the driving colony, young Joe Bongiorno is certainly a guy to keep your eye on if he has a reasonably live horse. He doesn't get top quality stock on a consistent basis, but he seems to be willing to fire a long shot off the gate if he feels that the opportunity exists.

Regular Meadowlands players will notice that the track has really sped up the time between races lately. This is a great idea that keeps the momentum moving during the night and appeals to our “I want it now” society. Our Managing Editor Matt Rose, who only plays the Meadowlands sparingly, was in action this past Saturday and really enjoyed the pace, saying, “It moved along well and I didn’t drift elsewhere to look for action. When you go to the casino, they don’t make you wait 25 minutes between hands of poker. Think about how much you hate it when the dealer has to shuffle six decks in blackjack or change decks. People just don’t like to wait.”

Finally, with the Battle of The Brandywine (3YO Pacing Colts), Colonial (3YO Trotters) and Valley Forge (3YO Filly Pacers) likely out of commission for 2014, the August stakes calendar for 3-year-old pacers could look very dry. Will that result in more nominations for races like the Meadowlands Pace? The North America Cup, Max Hempt, Meadowlands Pace and Adios were squeezed together into eight consecutive weeks (June 8 to July 27) in 2013. Unless some mystery race appears on the calendar, the best 3YO pacers will be resting up for much of the month. Perhaps that would lead to more horses racing in the Little Brown Jug? Or maybe if the Meadowlands races the second Saturday in August to make up a snow date, carding a 3-year-old open would seem like a good idea. With about $2 million off the table for second-year stars and the loss of one of the more exciting days of standardbred racing, that is not the type of news we want to hear to ring in the New Year. 

UPDATE: Sources are now telling me that there will be a major 3-year-old colt pace raced in August. Stay tuned for track, date, etc.


DavidM9999 More than 1 year ago
Derrick: Who were the trainers asked to leave over Cobalt results? I have not been able to find that key bit of information.
Doug Kendrick More than 1 year ago
Derrick I saw something very disturbing while watching a simulcast of the Meadowlands on Saturday. A feature I find very interesting, the interviews with the drivers in the paddock between races, absolutely stunned me. Corey Callahan was being interviewed and he was asked about the horse he was about to drive Victorydaze Wilwin. The previous week the program line showed the horse sat the rail and passed horses in the stretch to finish third. Callahan said "last week I wasn't racing for a check, but I gave him his head and he finished good....." . There may be a word or two in that quote a little off but the phrase "I wasn't racing for a check" is exact. I nearly jumped through the television screen. If I was conducting the interview my first question to Callahan would have been what about all the people that bet their money on this horse last week? Huh? I could not believe what I was hearing! Now I am not naive. I have been around harness racing since 1970, and as a matter of fact I was there the night the Meadowlands opened. I could tell stories about things that go on in the backstretch that would either make you laugh till you drop or make your hair stand on end depending on your point of view. However, this was the first time I have ever heard a driver on television admit he was not trying to even pick up a check never mind win. I don't know Callahan's reputation but if Gural is as intent as he says in restoring integrity in harness racing Callahan would be banned from the track. Harsh? Maybe, but until things like this are no longer tolerated harness racing will continue to have image problems. P.S. Callahan proceeded to get on Victorydaze Wilwin and with a first over trip won the next race. Perhaps a little more effort the previous week and some fans would not have torn up tickets purchased with their hard earned money. And for the record I did not bet a dollar into either of the races referenced.
Bob Tyler More than 1 year ago
No COLONIAL, BATTLE OF BRANDYWINE or VALLEY FORGE...what a joke...reason why???? because SLOT PIT, Harrah's Chester (and they can change the name all they want, everybody knows it's in CHESTER!!!, across from a prison) won't open the CLUBHOUSE!!! no place for people to watch the races..they could give 2 flyin' ##### about horse racing or any horse racing fans...can't have it at Western PA SLOT PIT Mohegan Sun because last year was a complete disaster, clubhouse, dining room a joke...this sport of Harness Racing has become a joke, an afterthought..If anyone with half a brain was running the old Liberty Bell back before it closed, it would still be there and these races would still be relative..One ray of hope though, I did go to the New Meadowlands, a great facility, they are TRYING to do it right, I'll give them that....
Jeff Biever More than 1 year ago
"If anyone with half a brain was running the old Liberty Bell...". How true, Bob, and you probably remember, and perhaps are too polite to say, that it was the Rooney family that presided over the demise of Liberty Bell. Let's see, the Rooneys, oh, that's right, the same family that ran Yonkers Raceway into the ground until saved by the slots. And who has done nothing fan-friendly since.
Heavens guy More than 1 year ago
I won't bet a dime at this track.
Rogelio More than 1 year ago
The Meadowlands is playing more like a half mile track these days. Lets say the average race goes in 1:51 or 1:52: if the leader hits the half in 55:3 this means they come the last half in 55:2 to 56:2. If a horse is setting more than 5 lengths off the pace with 3/8's to go he has almost NO shot. The lions share of 1:51 pacers (20k claimers) cannot come home in 26 and change because the obviously do not fan 3 to 4 deep on the far turn so they are relegated to a 28+ second third quarter. With this said, a select few can close but 97% of the time it is for a minor share rather than a win. I have adjusted my handicapping accordingly and think of The Big M as a half mile track and can discount 80% of all closers. Front enders and floaters (setting 3rd to 5th) are winning and this is not by chance. It is a racing fact and a dynamic that might not help the gambling longevity of The Big M. When I compare The Big M to let's say: Woodbine do I see a difference? Of course. Where do I cash the most tickets for higher prices........Woodbine. The fact is there have been more 15-1 plus longshots that win at Woodbine. This translates to a better chance to make money if you play vertical or horizontal bets. Have I given up on The Big M........No. Am I more cautious about pace? Absolutely. Mt solution has translated into betting on about half the races at the Meadowlands compared to three quarters of the races at Woodbine.
Robert Pandolfo More than 1 year ago
It goes look like the first turn comes up quicker. And, it's hard to believe that it's a mile. The times are incredibly fast for this time of year.
jack brandt More than 1 year ago
There were some hilarious passages in that article. My favorite was "as handicappers we must figure how to beat the odds" . Here's a clue for you, don't bet into pools that have a 15% + rake, because guess what?, if you manage to eek out a small yearly profit, it won't be worth the time you spent. Unless your betting pick 4's with enough variance and combinations to make some big hits and some positive equity situations, you're not beating any game that skims 20% of the money, no matter how good you are. Ask any pro poker player if he wants to play against 8 monkeys with a 20% rake of every pot (or buy-in), he'll decline. Ask any sports gambler how often a +ev bet comes along if they had 20% juice. Heck, most pro sports gamblers make sure they bet into 2.5% holds because the standard 4.5% is too high. On the rare occasions I bet horse racing these days, it's bet offshore outside of the track pools in pick3's and 4's where I can turn a 25% raked pool into a 4% raked pool (if you figure out how, you're on your way to successful gambling) and rebates on my total wagering handle. At least I have a fighting chance. Do i feel bad about denying horseman my money? Let me answer that with a question. Did the track, the horseman, the jockeys, or the state government give anything back to the player when their purses became subsidized by state enforced slot machines? Did the once standard 5% commission of a paris-mutual ever return to give the player a fair game?
peter k More than 1 year ago
So is it a mile or not ?
Tom Daly More than 1 year ago
Here's the question when handicapping the Meadowlands, I have seen horses 1st and 2nd quarters average around 27.1 for the 1/4 and 1/2 but they are coming home sometimes in 28 and 29. I don't remember last years winter meet producing these quarters. I agree with the idea that you need to be upfront in a good place in order to win but the quarters are a little bit off in my mind. When is the last time you went at the Meadowlands well this horse came home in 29? Any insight?
Derick More than 1 year ago
I think many of the slow final quarters are a result of the backstretch action. Drivers are being more aggressive early because on many of the winter nights it has been hard to close late. Look at some of the first halves from Saturday (:54, :53, etc).