11/23/2015 11:32AM

Bergman: Cooperation is key for success in New Jersey

Recently elected head of SBOANJ Mark Ford.

Cooperation is a two-way street.

The Meadowlands pushed through a new schedule for 2016 that reduced racing opportunities over the winter and increased them past August. In the process it sent some shockwaves through the New Jersey horsemen’s association and the fallout from that and perhaps other issues led to the shocking defeat of Tom Luchento as its leader.

At times it is imperative for the horsemen to work closely with racetrack management. In a sense such cooperation should be to the benefit of both parties. Yet the loss of Luchento after some 12 years at the helm represents a shift in the attitude of horsemen and perhaps it is a direct reflection of Luchento’s association with Meadowlands management.

The new regime comes in under the leadership of Mark Ford, a horseman that clearly has a major stake in the game in New Jersey and New York. While some back-stabbers are attempting to discredit Ford’s State of allegiance, it’s hard to look at the entry box in either state and not see a sense of loyalty on both sides of the Hudson.

On the surface what Ford represents and Luchento could not was that of an active horsemen that has to deal with real life issues such as where to race his horses on a particular night. Ford has loyalty but he also has a business to run and needs to race his horses where they can make the most money.

This is a critical time for both New Jersey horsemen and The Meadowlands. With a chance to push for a ballot issue asking the public to approve casinos outside of Atlantic City, a strong alliance would serve the purposes of both organizations.

That said, of immediate concern to those who wager on a regular basis at the Meadowlands is that there should be more horses in the box and the guarantee of full fields as we head into the best gambling season for the sport. The supply evident in the first two weekends of action has not been conducive to allow racing secretary Peter Koch to put together highly competitive races.

While there is always hope that the closing of nearby racetracks will help generate a larger stream of entries at the Meadowlands, there is still a real concern that horsemen can not get a fair chance when multiple conditions are combined to get a single race.

It was disheartening on Saturday to see any horse go off at odds of 1-9 in a condition race and normally the blame would fall on the shoulders of the racing secretary. But it was clear that in order for Koch to put on enough races to constitute a racing program, he had to cut corners and cut and paste entries to make individual fields. With stakes races now off the card for the weeks to come as the late closing programs have been discarded, Koch has no foundation that he can theoretically build off of and will be at the mercy of the horsemen on a weekly basis.

If there is an olive branch solution to whatever caused the New Jersey horsemen to opt for brand new leadership, it is the belief from this corner that the Meadowlands should make the first offering to make peace with all trainers and not just those who have avoided being put on the bad list on an annual basis.

Even murderers get parole, but apparently some horsemen that manage to race hundreds of horses without major infractions are still penalized from racing in East Rutherford.

If Mark Ford could and should do anything, it should be to unite and represent all horsemen in matters that concern his organization and racetracks. Exclusionary tactics may be necessary but does the penalty have to be “Life in Prison?”

The Meadowlands needs handle and horsemen need handle in New Jersey in order to survive and hopefully eke out a living. It’s hard to blame those who enter horses each week no matter what condition they find themselves in. Loyalty is great if you have an endless supply of money and don’t have to be concerned about paying the bills. On the other hand, sacrificing horses in order to create mismatched 10-horse fields with a resulting loss of income is good for neither party. Bettors can’t embrace those types of horses and horsemen waste chances to earn money where horses can be competitive.

Cooperation with horsemen means there should be some sort of balance where both sides give a little and the results improve. The Meadowlands has thrived as the premier racetrack for those who appreciate standardbreds and wagering on them. “Racing From The Meadowlands” once meant all horses that met the conditions could race as long as those connected were licensed in New Jersey.

Jeff Gural doesn’t have to allow any horseman he doesn’t think represents the best of the sport into his racetrack. At the same time, he does need to appeal to a larger number of horsemen to help fill the entry box and create the type of product all fans have come to expect. If the “New” Meadowlands has too many 1-9 shots in overnight events it will be far removed from what gamblers cherished at the “Old” Meadowlands.

This is a critical time and spirit of cooperation isn’t just necessary, it’s mandatory. In order for gamblers to take the Meadowlands product more seriously this winter more horses are going to have to enter each individual class. Races that need three, four and five additional conditions break down the very fabric of what the Meadowlands was built upon.

The New Jersey horsemen are looking to move in a new and hopefully positive direction. It would be great to see a more meaningful relationship built with the Meadowlands management, one that produces an outcome we can all be proud of.

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