02/13/2012 9:07AM

Bergman: The time is now for harness bettors

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There's an inherent danger in reminiscing. While it can be dreamy to look back, humans tend to look only at the good or best of a time and place and rarely, if ever, choose to remember the bad.

Listening to the "oldies" channel had my daughter's echoing the tune. "Hey dad, the music was so great back then."

Sure, there was great music and thanks to modern science we can put it all together in one package with just the best of an era. That's why I had to remind her that there were plenty of really bad songs during the 60s that you will never hear or want to hear.
I often hear the echoes about the same grand old times of harness racing and quite frankly I'm shocked at how people can recall only how great racing was and the immense crowds that it attracted. Lost in recollection is the endless stream of "bad races" and questionable payouts.

That's the tug-of-war being waged in today's harness industry. There are those who want to see a rebirth of the past. There are those who want to see horse owners do well. There are those who want to see breeders do well. And then of course we have us, the gamblers who pretty much only care that the product remains competitive and the payoffs equal or exceed the everyday risks.
The past is filled with great stories but for our purposes it's all fiction. There's no point in attempting to relive something that doesn't exist and can't exist. We're all better off that the scandals of racing's past are far enough removed from memory.

To be frank, there has never been a better time to bet on standardbred racing than there is now.

Period.

The runners have always had a distinction between those who could train and those who could ride. For the sulky-sport it took quite some time to convince those who train that they couldn't drive as well. Today's drivers offer an incredible confidence level to today's gamblers. The fact that catch-drivers, as they are called, make their living in this way and no other has increased the competitive level in each race on each night.

One could argue that it was once possible for horses to sweep the field from last far more regularly than they do today. This gives rise to the argument that we must change the current climate to regain this "lost" era.

Why?

Our races are absolutely fine the way they are. How is it possible that people want to go back to an era when horses were winning mile races in two-minutes flat, when pretty much all of our races go eight seconds faster today.

What's great about today's product is how quickly we all can adapt to individual changes. Trainer changes, driver changes and even sulky changes tend to have an impact on the outcome of a race. That's why it was somewhat surprising but quite refreshing to see the New Meadowlands open the door to an even more transparent product.

Jeff Gural didn't purchase the Meadowlands from the state of New Jersey because he wanted to own a racetrack. Gural wants to change a racetrack from the past to the future. So this past Thursday, Gural instituted a first in harness racing. His staff is now compiling and disseminating information about the specific sulkies horses are racing with.

Apparently all sulkies aren't alike and though there may be subtle differences, there are people who claim those differences may provide an edge of some sort.

"I hate the fact that there are different sulkies and new ones come along every year," said Gural. "I thought we would try to provide the information on sulkies and try to keep track and see if statistically it makes a difference."

What's great about Gural's position is his unwavering opinion about the business. Clearly he and his staff could have compiled the information behind the scenes and made a determination first, before going public. In pushing forth the way he and his team have, the New M will let the public decide if this information is valid in any way they choose fit. In a gambling business sometimes it’s best if you let the public decide what's good or bad.

The Meadowlands has had great fortune with its multiple race bets. The pick five with a 50 cent buy-in has been a rousing success and continues to build. Just this past week there was a single winner on Thursday night and Friday night. Each half-buck ticket returned more than $27,000!

This Thursday would be a good time for non-multiple-race bettors to take their blinkers off. With the wager not getting hit this past Saturday. Thursday's carryover will be more than $27,470, leading many to believe the pool will exceed six figures.

Sometimes the multiple-race wagers can be luck driven. The Meadowlands has had good fortune in putting together the first five races each night and having odds-on horses lose. The odds-on horse can inspire players to single a particular race, which makes an overall play less costly.

Both on-track and off-track wagering at the Meadowlands have swelled so far this year, but so too have the numbers at Yonkers and Woodbine. Gural attributes much of the overall success to the mild winter but believes Meadowlands on-track gains have been a direct result of improved marketing and a new attitude at the East Rutherford plant.

We're looking forward to Thursday's pick five!