01/11/2012 11:57PM

Once around with Brian Sears

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With all the changes taking place at the Meadowlands, who better to chat with than perennial leading driver Brian Sears? We had the chance to touch on the banked turns, the new mandates for racing strategy put forth by operator Jeff Gural, and a few other tidbits.

The $250,000 project to bank the turns at the Meadowlands has produced some early off-the-pace winners but horses near the lead have won their fair share of races as well. Sears agreed that the banking would help but he stopped short of making it a cure-all.

“I think it helps horses to keep a little better gait around the turn and it seems to tighten up the pack, but this is a speed game,” said Sears.

He continued, “Harness Racing is really speed oriented now. Sometimes you get a half in 53 seconds, during the summer, and you really feel you got a breather (for the horse).”

Before opening night on January 6, Gural made it clear in a closed door meeting that he wanted to see more action during the races. Allowing horses to tuck into a cozy spot on the pylons after leaving from an outside post and clogging the rim while waiting for cover would no longer be tolerated.

Sears was the first to come under fire with the new rules in place. While driving Sand Pleasure in the third race on January 6 he was cited for allowing another horse to settle in directly in front of his charge.

“I ended up talking to the judges and explaining to them what I was trying to accomplish. I wound up following the second favorite and was second-over,” said Sears. “They were not thrilled by the fact that I gave up the hole, but they let me off with a warning.”

Closing up holes and forcing the action is sure to lead to more contentious racing. How will Sears walk the fine line between following the rules and providing his horse the best chance of winning?

“I’m trying to get along with the judges and Jeff [Gural], and I will do whatever I can to make it work. The bottom line is that I’m out there to win races,” said Sears, who confirmed that he will drive at Yonkers on Mondays and Tuesdays while staying at the Meadowlands from Thursday to Saturday.

“I plan to be at the Meadowlands when they are racing,” said Sears, who expressed concern on what will happen as other tracks open. He continued,” They have my support, but I am concerned when they card a Preferred Mare Pace on opening weekend and it disappears when Yonkers (Raceway) opens. I want this to work. That is the bottom line.”

A new wrinkle at the Meadowlands this week is a $7,500 claiming event with 14 pacers going the marathon distance of 1 ½ miles. One name you will not find listed to drive is Sears. He elected not to participate in the crowded field.

“If it was a trot race that would be different, but with pacers at that speed, you start stretching them out and bad things can happen. There is risk in any race, let alone a $7,500 claimer going 1 ½ miles,” said Sears, who did say he would have been in the bike for an added-distance race if the quality of the horses competing was higher.

One constant theme throughout the conversation was how much Sears wanted the Meadowlands to succeed. Time will tell the Meadowlands’ fate. For now, and hopefully for decades to come, the “White Knight” will be in the sulky and on the track.

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