03/03/2016 3:58PM

Bergman: Anthony Napolitano to stay at the Meadowlands?

Lisa Photo
Driver Anthony Napolitano has won 35 races at the Meadowlands this meet.

Without surprises, what would life be?

Heading into the first weekend in March the Meadowlands has proven to be a far different racing product. Much of the change has little to do with the horse population and more to do with the driver colony.

Up and coming reinsman Anthony Napolitano figured to be preparing for the re-opening of The Downs at Mohegan Sun in a few weeks. A regular at that track, Napolitano tried the Meadowlands over the winter and a surprising thing happened.

He was an enormous success.

“I haven’t driven for the top trainers,” Napolitano said. “But I think I have won more races for more different trainers than anyone else.”

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That’s no small feat when one considers how fierce the competition is for top mounts and the quality of the Meadowlands driving colony is second to none.

“I tried it a few years back but I didn’t get much power,” Napolitano said, remembering a futile attempt to spend the winter driving at the Meadowlands.

“This year Travis Alexander got me going and then I started getting more drives,” Napolitano said. “I went out there and decided that I would be more aggressive and it’s paid off.”

Now with just weeks to go before Pocono opens again, Napolitano is in a rather awkward position. A spot he didn’t expect to be in. That being that, he has to make the decision whether to rejoin his colleagues in Pennsylvania or stick it out at the Meadowlands on weekends.

“I’m going to drive at Pocono during the week,” said Napolitano. That was the limit to how far the 34-year-old was willing to commit, but the tone of his voice seemed to indicate that he would like to remain at the Meadowlands on weekends.

It’s a critical juncture in the season and perhaps in the career of a driver that has wowed the betting public this winter winning from on and off the pace and with trotters and pacers. Of greater value is the fact that Napolitano has been aggressive with longshots and that has paid off as well.

“You have to have the horsepower,” Napolitano said, deflecting some of the credit that he deserves.

After the draw for this Friday and Saturday’s card, Napolitano said he would take his time and carefully weed out the conflicts since he was put down on multiple drives with some of the sport’s leading drivers racing in a competition Down Under.

“I’m not going to always take the horse that may look the best on paper,” Napolitano said, confiding that his selection process runs somewhat deeper.

“I’m looking to stick with trainers with more horses so that I can get drives down the road,” said Napolitano.

The next few weeks may in fact be critical for Napolitano’s future. He has clearly established himself winning races against the best while not intimidated whatsoever with the big stage. Now the stakes season is on the precipice and Napolitano would like to be finding himself behind the sports’ best.

“It’s a challenge to pick up a drives in the stakes races,” said Napolitano. Though he has clearly proven his talent this winter, there is a very narrow list of drivers that get the calls when the big money is riding and the younger brother of leading dash-winner George Napolitano Jr. has not been among them.

What stands ahead for Napolitano should he stay at the Meadowlands on weekends is likely the chance to drive for more stables and maybe pick up a drive or two on a young horse with some potential. Whether Pocono can provide the same potential as the Meadowlands is something that has made this decision a most difficult one for Napolitano.

Sometimes you have to move to a bigger stage to get noticed and for Napolitano the transition from the five-eighths track to the mile track at the Meadowlands has been an incredibly smooth one.

“I drove on the mile track at Rockingham,” said Napolitano. “It’s really not that much different.”

What has been different is that Napolitano has been able to show just how much he can get out of a horse. His confidence level has clearly risen through this experience and no matter which way he turns his car on weekends in the next few weeks, there’s no doubt some impressed owners and trainers will be calling upon him.

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