06/08/2015 9:24AM

Bergman: More racing dates should accompany a Meadowlands casino

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Michael Lisa
Jeff Gural, Chairman of New Meadowlands Racetrack LLC, spoke about casino plans at the Meadowlands on June 3.

This past week we found out just what Jeff Gural’s vision was for the future of gaming in New Jersey. Numbers were cast into the air on a grand scale and for those listening, most of the figures painted the Hard Rock-Meadowlands project a veritable win-win proposition. Still months or perhaps years away from public approval and potential reality, it’s hard not to listen to the words and feel at least optimistic for the sport within the Garden State.

While a revenue stream was forecast that would help bail out a struggling Atlantic City and at the same time help to boost the purse levels for both harness and thoroughbred tracks in New Jersey, horsemen, especially breeders, don’t appear to be part of the long term fix.

That’s the sense that I got listening to Jeff Gural’s house interview on Friday night as his numbers streamed effortlessly for Atlantic City and New Jersey taxpayers but seem to get caught up when the subject of racing dates was broached. Gural first said he can see “three days a week” but then quickly recanted and spoke of three days a week for a November through August schedule.

[DRF HARNESS: Check out our complete lineup of Harness past performances and discount packages]

While predictions of slot revenue and its benefits were crystal clear, Gural struggled to come to terms with what the revenue could or should mean for the breeding and horse racing industry within New Jersey.

Surely if somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million or even $20 million could be added to existing purses at the Meadowlands, wouldn’t that be some inspiration for those breeders who exited New Jersey to return? Or for that matter horsemen that annually set up shop in the Garden State to repopulate its training centers?

It was hard to question the wisdom of Gural and his team for keeping the New Meadowlands racing season tight with no outside money available to help supplement its purse structure. However, if numbers are being tossed in the air with such certainty, how is it possible the only number that can’t expand significantly is that of racing dates?

There’s nothing this industry would like more than to see a bevvy of slot machines at the Meadowlands and sooner rather than later. Yet if after all we’ve heard about New Jersey’s struggles to compete with slot-revenue driven purses in neighboring states was hardship, why not propose something more on a grander scale for a revival?

There’s still a long road ahead and hopefully one in which the Meadowlands will be the feature attraction should casinos be permitted in Northern New Jersey. We must all take a long deep breath and ask ourselves where the racing industry will stand if that becomes a reality?

As a fan of racing and not particularly one that plays the slots, I’d like to see racing thrive again in New Jersey. As Mr. Gural so eloquently suggested in his interview with Justin Horowitz, people like to bring their stakes horses to the Meadowlands and they like seeing great racing over the big track as opposed to smaller tracks. If that’s the case, shouldn’t Gural and company be offering to cover a lot more dates with live racing and within their prognostications, find the wisdom to suggest that horsemen will come with horses as long as purse money is there?

Because in actuality that’s exactly how the Meadowlands lost the horses in the first place, by trying to compete on an uneven scale with surrounding states.

Instead of any three-day schedule, the Meadowlands should and could return to prominence the way they did from the beginning in 1976. And that would be a solid purse structure and more racing nights throughout the winter.

More nights would also help the Meadowlands advance carryover bets in a much faster way than we’re seeing today and perhaps have more chances at significant handle increases. It’s hard to gain any kind of momentum when the doors are closed 72 percent of the time.

We can all dream. Mine starts with more horses, more horsemen and more racing dates in the state of New Jersey.

JAYWALKING: According to the SOA of NY Spring Newsletter “A bill was introduced creating a due process structure at the New York Gaming Commission for horsemen that have been barred or ejected by a licensed racetrack.

“Currently racetrack owners can arbitrarily decide to exclude licensed horsemen for no reason. The bill would allow the Gaming Commission to conduct an independent review to insure that the exclusion was justified.”

It’s somewhat puzzling why this issue has suddenly become agenda-worthy in Albany with all of the other matters the state has to wrestle with. Yonkers Raceway has had this power and authority pretty much forever and has utilized it without any apparent industry backlash or public display.

I’m not usually one to get excited by the fastest baby race on a given Saturday morning at the Meadowlands, but even before Pure Country turned to go to the gate in the eighth qualifier she looked impressive to me. The daughter of Somebeachsomewhere from the Western Hanover-sired Western Montana has a pedigree that extends back to the family of Nihilator. When she wired the field in 1:55 4/5 without driver Brett Miller moving a muscle through a 27 2/5 final quarter, I was assured her looks were not deceiving. Western Montana, her dam, was a quality 2-year-old that had some hard luck drawing outside in the Breeders Crown in 2006 yet finished a credible fourth. Her daughter appears to have a similar future. Jimmy Taker (who else) trains the filly for Adam Bowden’s Diamond Creek Racing.

Speaking of Takter, how do we explain that his Father Patrick defeated older horses in capturing the Maxie Lee at Harrah’s Philadelphia but then couldn’t beat one 4-year-old in the Graduate at the Meadowlands on Saturday?

 

 

Joel Weiner More than 1 year ago
"It’s somewhat puzzling why this issue has suddenly become agenda-worthy in Albany with all of the other matters the state has to wrestle with." Don't be puzzled Jay; if it involves the NY state legislature, then you know someone paid someone to bring this up.
Paul Matties More than 1 year ago
If harness racing wants to get serious, they need to get the major trainers involved and form a circuit between the Meadowlands and Yonkers and offer the top purses all year long. The Grand Circuit can still exit and the revolving stake races that currently run can remain but the majority of the good horses have to run in New York/New Jersey and both tracks CAN"t run at the same time. Maybe the Meadowlands purse money can scare Yonkers in to doing it, but the trainers have to step up and do something positive for the game. In the long run, it will benefit them more,than just scraping out purses in races that nobody cares about