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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mark More than 1 year ago
a 1:48 mile by golden reicever in January says it all -please add more races for 10 cents; how about a place pick nine...
Catonie More than 1 year ago
Not that I know a lot about harness racing, but it seems to me that these horses will be desperately tired at the end of a mile and an eighth race, much less going 1 1/2 miles. I think you're asking for disaster and wrecks on the track. These races aren't going to be written for the best horses on the grounds, because they wouldn't be entered in them.......so you're going to get horses that already have injuries and issues, then ask them to race further than a mile. Not a good idea. Who's foolish enough to get in the bike behind them? Not many, I surmise. Think of something else to do! Not this. [I was against the 1 1/2 race for $7,500 claimers at first, but I thought the first edition actually went over quite well. I'm keeping an open mind for now. - DG]
I Foffe More than 1 year ago
Its difficult to read when people view and comment on jockeys/drivers/gambles/racing negatively. I absolutely love the sport and know that the Meadowlands drivers do their best to maintain the integrity of the sport. For those who dont like the way a driver drives or how a jockey rides- find a new sport- there is always football. [How does it go, If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all. - DG]
grace More than 1 year ago
Can horses race inside the pylons at the Meadowlands? Race # 1 Friday night.. turning for home the #2 horse was inside two pylons and there was no inquiry. At Woodbine they put up inquiries on this. Y. Gingras was on the lead and clearly inside the track course. why no inquiry? could someone tell me why? thank you [Every jurisdiction has different rules regarding infractions. Yes, the horse obviously cut the pylons, but he was well clear of the third place horse at the wire and was likely not considered to have gained a large enough unfair advantage. If the #2 had won the race by a half-length or so, you probably would have seen an inquiry. - DG]
twodollarbettor More than 1 year ago
Good interview. I play harness/trot only occasionally, but was a little surprised to read about Meadowlands wanting action to be pepped up. Of all the harness tracks I play, Meadowlands seems to be the one that produces the most races I'm paying very close attention to until the end. With other tracks, I have a better sense of my fate much earlier on during races.
kram More than 1 year ago
Wow! 1 1/8, 1 1/4, 1 1/2 mile races- 12-14 horse fields, Tampa Bay Downs, $4K claimers? Why not throw away the sulkys and make it a thoroughbred racetrack?
Walt P. More than 1 year ago
Kram: The problem is, the status quo is what is killing Harness Racing. If this sport is going to survive, it is going to need some MAJOR changes in the way it is presented, something Mr. Gural is already doing with his plans (which others have followed suit on) that will bar horses sired by stallions then four or younger at the time of conception from competing in major stakes events for instance. Making 1 1/8 Miles the new standard distance and mixing in 1 1/2 Mile events on a daily basis to me may be the next things that need to happen to help cut down on speed being a factor, especially with the equipment making for much faster races. Larger fields are extremely important, as big bettors have repeatedly expressed they want big fields and prefer to wager on tracks like Tampa Bay because they provide that. Those are the bettors I want to bring in by having a seven-eighths of a mile track with most races at 1 1/8 Miles (including stakes, along with some races at 1 1/2 Miles or longer) and 14 starters across. If I can constantly deliver 11, 12, 13 and 14 horse fields EVEN IF its only nine races a night that are extremely popular with big bettors and more casual racing fans alike, especially if they are more competitive races then I have done the job I would be setting out to do.
Walt P. More than 1 year ago
One thing that may need to be seriously considered would be to immediately make ALL races at The Meadowlands (including stakes events) AT LEAST 1 1/8 Miles instead of the standard mile distance (plus of course also having the 14-horse 1 1/2 Mile fields). Perhaps by adding an additional eighth of a mile to all races on the program would help negate the speed factor some since they would have to go an extra eighth. The 1 1/8 Mile distance as the new standard would in fact be part of what I would be looking to do long-term at The Meadowlands with some other things once construction of the new grandstand is completed: Shrinking the track from a one mile to a seven-eighths of a mile oval. Adding chutes on the front stretch to allow for races of up to 1 1/4 Miles around two turns (with an eighth of a mile runup for 1 1/4 Mile races) and on the backstretch for races of 1 1/2 Miles (with at least an eighth of a mile runup and if possible that chute extending further to allow for races of up to 1 5/8 Miles). Making the track wide enough for 14 starters across. These changes, with all regular races (including stakes) at 1 1/8 Miles and with 14 starters across (and also with bonuses for winning from posts 11-14 that would increase the further outside you are) would be huge in luring thoroughbred bettors who clearly care about one thing over everything else: Big fields. Bettors have clearly shown with their wallets that they want big fields, as proven the last few years by the constantly rising handle at Tampa Bay Downs, a track where they race for far lower purses than most of the other winter tracks (and certainly much lower than what they are racing for at Aqueduct this winter). Tampa Bay Downs has consistently broken all of their wagering records by focusing on getting big fields (while Gulfstream, which also has big fields has made large jumps in handle as well), and I would be looking to do the same at The Meadowlands with the changes I would be making there. What I would mainly be looking to do at The Meadowlands is average 11-12 starters per race with the changes I'd be making, which would be above every other thoroughbred track in the country even if it meant doing two things: Carding only nine races per night and lowering the claiming bottom all the way to $4,000 while offering conditioned claimers. Some might not like seeing claiming events with tags that low, but given The Meadowlands does have to compete for horses with tracks like Yonkers year-round and in the warmer weather months Pocono Downs and Chester whose purses are fueled by other gaming, going to a lower claiming bottom that would help assure big fields would likely be one to bring in bettors who simply love to bet on races with 12-14 starters in most cases. It may not be perfect, but at least Mr. Gural is trying to make it work. These changes in my opinion are needed, however, in order to put The Meadowlands in a better position to do so.
Martin W More than 1 year ago
I would disagree with nearly everything suggested by Walt P,mainly because it is based on conclusions derived from thoroughbred racing,but not what works in harness racing.A 7/8 format has been proven to produce dull racing in harness, mainly because the long run to the first turn allows all the drivers time to fall in and set the stage for a race that consists of more following and waiting,which is less exciting than actual contentious racing.Both Woodbine and Mohawk have had problems with this and have experimented with different distances,essentially to no avail. You seem to have a blind eye to the fact that the thoroughbreds race more freely while harness horses follow along.The sulky creates extra bulk and going 3 and 4 wide around turns in large fields would seal a standardbreds fate. The Meadowlands racing with 10 horse fields have always produced an excellent product which can compete with any racing product,especially in winter when weather conditions serve to make it more difficult for speed to prevail.It is simply the best harness racing has to offer.Why tamper?
grace More than 1 year ago
anyone watch the races at the Meadowlands Thursday night? An absolute disgrace. The best was the 3rd race payoff 1st)11-1 2nd) 39-1 3rd) 165-1 and the trifecta only paid $3,400 with the 6/5 and 8/5 favorites off board. Yikes!
Baron More than 1 year ago
This "USE" to be the old game back when I was trainning harness horses in the "hay day" in California. The favorites go dead along with a couple of more and then the gamblers ,that bought and paid for this little stunt , bet the remaining horses in exacta, trifectas. They don't care how the rest finish - it does not matter, they will still be cashing a nice ticket with big priced horses placing 1-2-3 , but then of course there is a discrepancy in these exoctic pay offs -like less that they should have paid. This is what destroyed the Harness Racing in California - the public finally figured out that the were getting screwed and just stop coming - no one wants to be betting on races that are rigged. Problem is that these sick gamblers don't care about the welfare of the sport, just about making $$$ and for the drivers that take the pay off money they are just as ignorant of the long term consequences of their actions. The stewards need to call the drivers on the favorites in these races and try to do something - then the FBI next if that does not work.