01/04/2012 7:11PM

A New Meadowlands

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Finally! The Meadowlands is back. Make that the New Meadowlands.

No matter what you want to call it – The Big M, the track by the swamp – the Meadowlands returns to action on Friday, January 6 with 12 big races and full fields.

Operator Jeff Gural is ready and willing to try anything to make New Meadowlands a success. In addition to approaching the driving colony about more aggressive driving (read Gural's quote), he revealed a few other tidbits of things to look for as the meet progresses.

“With Freehold closed through the end of February, we are toying with the idea of carding 14-horse fields for $7,500 claimers racing at 1 ½ miles,” said Gural. “The horses with the most points in those races would come back for a big money final at the end of February. We might even distribute money down to 10 places in those races.

“I’m not sure if the races will fill, but the added distance should alleviate concerns over the large field size.”

Gural, who will be in attendance on opening night, plans on trying as many promotions as possible.

“As we get closer to the summer, I plan on copying some of the promotions that have worked at Tioga,” said Gural, who will once again participate in the Beat The Boss contest, which pits Gural against the fans in a handicapping duel. “We have lowered the price of valet parking from $10 to $5 and will offer free admission and programs on Fridays.”

Other things to expect in 2012 include:

Wagering format – The rolling Pick 3 is gone. Each program will feature just one Pick 3 on the final three races. Superfectas will be offered in every race, though only select races (5, 7, 9, 11, last) will allow for a .10-cent minimum wager.
Around the far turn – Grabbing a piece of the Meadowlands’ past, management has re-banked the turns with a 10% incline. This, in theory, should allow for horses to rally from third- or fourth-over on a more consistent basis.
In the sulky – All the regular drivers will be on track – Brian Sears, Tim Tetrick, Andy & Dave Miller, Yannick Gingras – along with some possible new faces on the regular scene. Freehold and Yonkers regular Jim Pantaleano has mentioned taking a full-time shot at the East Rutherford driving colony. Matt Kakaley is driving on opening weekend. The marquee newbie could be Walter Case Jr. . . . pending approval from the New Jersey Racing Commission and the USTA.
Tasty – Expect some better eats when you travel to New Meadowlands. A new food vendor has been brought in to spice up the offerings, quality and service.

With Yonkers Raceway and Harrah’s Chester closed since before Christmas, and many horses simply returning from a late fall vacation, a large portion of horses on opening weekend will be coming off qualifying races. There were 34 such morning warm-up events contested on December 29 and 30 at the Meadowlands. I watched them all so you don’t have to. Let’s take a look at some horses that caught my attention:

Qualifiers - Thursday, December 29

MS BETTY HOPE – Was locked in at the back and had some stretch pace. The effort on the track was better than the line looks on paper.
FOREIGN OFFICER – Won as he pleased.
COLD HARD FACTS – Stacked up behind excess cover and finished a willing second behind a runaway winner.
DRAGON PRINCESS – Saved ground and had to wait for stretch room to stretch her legs. She finished up willingly when clear.
ARTISTS VIEW – Was parked for the opening three-eighths of the mile even though the chart won’t show it. He finished up evenly in his first start in four months.
SUPERSTAR DREAM – Restrained behind horses in the lane and finished up willingly when shown daylight.
INTEGRITY – Locked in the pocket and never really got clear.
GOLDEN RECEIVER – Was a sharp winner.
DREAMS ARE REAL – Got shuffled out and backed into. He had some late pace.

Qualifiers - Friday, December 30

BIG SKY STORM – After getting looped off the gate, he eventually made his way to the top before yielding into the pocket. He faced some stretch traffic and was in-tight late.
FOLK TAIL – Finished with a solid burst in the lane. He is eligible for the bottom level condition.
CAMERON CHIP – Gobbled up tired foes impressively in the stretch. He won three races here in 2011.
TROUBLE – Sat the pocket and surged to the front professionally in the lane. Qualifier was his first start for trainer Julie Miller.
MACHINE – Made a nice middle move and finished willingly with his trainer driving.
ANOTHER HOMER N – Won by open lengths on the engine on a day when only 4 of the 14 winners went wire to wire.

You may also want to check out on-site chart caller PJ Iovino’s Meadowlands Qualifying Insider report. And if you are looking for a second opinion when you are ready to head to the windows, be sure to check out my analysis.

Good luck on opening weekend!

RELATED LINKS:

2012 New Meadowlands Meet Preview

2012 Stakes Schedule

Opening Night at the New Meadowlands: Free Friday PPs & Analysis

Harness News