11/21/2013 9:59AM

Meadowlands: Winds of change are blowing

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On Saturday the Meadowlands embarks on a new journey in somewhat of a “Bizarro World,” to reference a popular episode of Seinfeld when all the characters acted opposite of their normal personalities. The track has been reconfigured to make the starting line the finish line and vice-versa. It seems like a simple change, but the ramifications from a wagering standpoint could be huge.

I have read plenty of comments from trainers and drivers who are concerned that some horses might think the race is over when they reach the half-mile marker (the old finish line). I’m not sure I buy that, but I guess it could happen. Imagine betting a 3-5 shot on the lead that simply stops out of nowhere. That would be gut-wrenching!

[DRF HARNESS: Follow the action on opening night at the Meadowlands (Nov. 23) - LIVE on DRF!]

Anyone who has been to the Meadowlands for a race, football game or a concert can attest to the crazy winds which occupy the region. On most nights when the wind was howling, there would be a tailwind through the stretch (wind at the horses’ backs). This same wind would blow in the faces of the horses on the backstretch and in theory allow closers a better chance of winning.

(Bob Pandolfo covers some wind theories of his own in his column)

With the grandstand now located on the opposite side of the track, it would make sense to just assume that there will mostly be headwinds in the stretch and tailwinds on the backstretch. It sounds logical. But is it reality?

During the qualifying session I attended, the wind was not overly strong (maybe 10 to 15mph) on the ground level but was quite fierce up on the fourth floor where I was watching. It was the usual crosswind that heads diagonally from the paddock to the backstretch. What quickly caught my eye was the tepid pace of each opening quarter on the Thursday (11/14) qualifying card. Whether we are discussing qualifiers or pari-mutuel races, it is typical for the second quarter to be slower than the first. Pick any card, on any day, at any track and the pattern will jump off the page.

On the Thursday card, each of the eight races produced a second quarter that was faster than the first. The average first quarter was 29 3/5, with the second quarter checking in at 28 4/5. Talk about a statistical oddity. Granted the sample size is small, but the odds of all eight qualifiers following the pattern are way greater than a 99-1 shot. Compare the above number to a tailwind day last January (1/10/13). There were nine qualifiers with an average opening quarter of 28 1/5 and second panel of 29 4/5.

It is difficult to say with certainty that on every windy night the opening quarters will be very slow, but it bears watching. The wind factor could potentially change the entire pace scenario. A slow first quarter means a slower overall pace and increases the likelihood of horses winning on the lead. Of course, that could change if drivers get aggressive from the new quarter pole until the five-eighths marker. Imagine bold brushes down the backstretch; sounds exciting!

The finish line is in the stretch, but races at the New Meadowlands on windy nights could be won and lost on the backstretch. The early forecast calls for temperatures in the low 30s with winds between 10 and 15mph on opening night (11/23). Perhaps the theory will be put to the test immediately.

And just to throw another log on the fire, what happens after the Super Bowl in February when the old grandstand is torn down? Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

I’m not going to overhaul my handicapping for Saturday’s Meadowlands card, but if the wind is blowing and I see a race without much speed, I’ll definitely key in on the horses with early zip. Speaking of the opening night card, you'll want to sharpen your handicapping pencil and bring some extras. Other than a few races, there are some difficult handicapping puzzles on the program. Good luck!

Have your voice heard

If you are in the Saratoga, NY area on Sunday (11/24), you can say your piece to the New York Racing Fan Advisory Council. Fans of both breeds are welcome to attend and provide constructive criticism or suggestions. The forum will take place at Saratoga Raceway and Casino from 11am until noon.