01/28/2013 1:01PM

Bergman: Meadowlands stock on the rise


The phenomenal success of the Meadowlands in 2013 has been the fresh air this industry has been pining for. Flush with full fields, reasonable weather and a lack of area football competition, the Meadowlands has seen impressive growth in its export signal over the first 12 days of the year.

Make no mistakes, the product is number one when it comes to attracting betting interest and anyone who has witnessed the races there this winter can see on an almost every race basis, a definitive change. Just this past weekend there were two races where horses were stacked three deep before the half mile marker. And those weren’t no-name drivers behind the horses, as Tim Tetrick and John Campbell both found themselves in rarified air and going forward.

We’ve already given credit to Pete Koch for putting together the races, but the true heroes in this winters rise has to be the horsemen, both drivers and trainers. Though some publicly lamented the move of Brian Sears to Yonkers, in reality that defection has actually led to a more widely balanced group of young and aggressive upstarts. Guys like Corey Callahan and Eric Carlson have joined the fray and both recognize the need to be on the outside and moving entering the first turn.

The numbers don’t lie.

Over the first 10 racing dates in 2013 (through Thursday January 24) $23,260,498 has been wagered on the Meadowlands product from sources outside the racetrack. Compare that with just $14,745,874 in 2012 and the figures are staggering. On the home front the handle has been somewhat neutral with $2,406,857 bet on track through the 10 days in 2013 compared with $2,357,191 a year ago.

We asked New Meadowlands chairman Jeff Gural if these double-digit increases in handle would lead to some form of purse increase in the near or distant future.

“The system we use to keep track of the purses has been all screwed up,” said Gural. Jason Settlemoir, the New Meadowlands CEO, later clarified that statement and suggested the track would have an updated purse account sometime this week. However, the likelihood for a purse increase seems remote given the way handle has been split and the share horsemen receive from imported signals.

The Standardbred Breeders and Owners of New Jersey’s executive administrator Leo McNamara pointed out that in a wide-ranging conversation this past week.

“About 70 percent of our purses come from betting done at the Meadowlands. That means all incoming simulcast of harness and thoroughbred as well as the live Meadowlands racing product,” McNamara said.

On a different subject, McNamara confirmed the presence of a new “cartel” that had been the focus of the Meadowlands offering rebates to promote handle.

“There’s a group of four guys who came forward and offered to wager $300,000 a night,” said McNamara. “This group is not a bunch of handicappers but computer guys who are looking for the right odds to wager on.”

McNamara suggested that the Meadowlands, with horsemen’s approval, sign an agreement with this small group much like they would with any other off-track entity. This means that the horsemen’s share of this money is in the neighborhood of between one and two percent of handle.

What encouraged McNamara’s group to go along with the track on this venture was the hope that the increased handle would have a spinoff effect.
“We figured that other players would see the increased pool size and be able to bet with confidence,” said McNamara.

The good news for the horsemen is that the numbers as they play out currently suggest exactly that. While we can’t determine exactly how much the one new group is wagering nightly, the overall nightly exported handle has shown an increase of $850,000 per night.

The more difficult news for the horsemen is that a straight two percent return on that money would yield only an additional $17,000 per evening for the purse fund should those numbers actually hold up for the duration of the meet.

Of more concern to McNamara was the stagnation of the on-track handle. With so much riding on them, those numbers have been flat. The horsemen though are extremely encouraged by the new Meadowlands facility currently under construction and the positive impact it could generate once opened.

“I think the smaller facility that will have the feeling of a real sports bar should be good for business,” said McNamara.

Indeed since on-track handle gets generated every day, a more comfortable, fan-friendly setting should be able to attract a consistent clientele and increase on-track wagering to the point that purses can rise.

Pool Manipulation?

It’s great to see the Meadowlands handle rise to its current level. The fact that there is even one group of people in the universe with the intelligence to try this game from strictly a math and computer science basis is encouraging. The notion that smart people with a bankroll can play this game at a high level and succeed with a minimal level of handicapping skill is certainly worth noting.

At the same time one has to wonder if everything the public is witnessing is on the level or put out there for a different reason.

Case in point, most recently on January 18 In Mint Condition, a $20,000 claimer being driven by Marcus Miller, opened as an even-money proposition and drifted up to be the 9-5 post-time favorite. The low odds immediately caught my attention since the youthful Miller had not actually won a race in his career at the Meadowlands at the time. Secondly, the horse, while coming off a good qualifier, had made breaks in three consecutive races at Harrah’s Philadelphia prior to this Meadowlands appearance. Thirdly, the presence of Elusive Reward, already an easy winner in $20,000 claimers at the meet, who seemed to have imposing speed despite drawing post 10, looked to be an odds-on favorite with Andy Miller driving.

For those who follow the odds board in 2013 it is nothing like what it was in 1983. The odds a horse opens at is now the most significant tote-board related factor gamblers can rely on. With more than 90 percent of all bets being placed in the last minutes prior to a race going off, it is virtually impossible for a gambler to digest late action and have enough time to wager. Instead most gamblers that follow the board look at the odds when they first open.

In this particular case low odds on a potential long-priced horse may have given the impression to a handicapper that “someone knows something.” In Mint Condition finished a non-threatening fifth, but at the same time may have been a rather useful tool for those trying to improve the odds in the exacta and trifecta pools betting on other horses.

We’ve seen a few more examples in recent weeks of low-percentage drivers guiding horses that open up at incredibly low odds. It’s impossible from the outside looking in to tell just who is placing wagers on these horses and what purpose it might be for.

Could it be that the new definition of smart money would be dollars invested to divert the betting public’s attention?


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