11/09/2015 11:25AM

Bergman: Weekend-only racing at the Meadowlands

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Derick Giwner
Horses will go behind the gate at the Meadowlands for the first time since August 8 when the track opens on November 13.

As we prepare for the re-opening of the Meadowlands on Friday night there are certain things we can take for granted and others that are still in limbo. An institution like The Meadowlands has been a galvanizing force for the industry since its inception in 1976. It was the backbone of the sport for quite some time but as we reach the end of 2015 there are some key questions about changes that remain unanswered.

Specifically, there was a premature announcement of a change in the racing schedule for 2016 prior to meeting with horsemen to seek approval and Freehold Raceway management has challenged the plan. On the new schedule is to be fewer racing days during the winter and additional weekend events past the usual closing in August.

[Editor’s Note: A meeting between the horsemen (SBOANJ) and Meadowlands took place on October 28 but no official announcement has been made since.]

While you have to give Meadowlands management credit for not sitting idly and accepting the status quo, at the same time you have to wonder whether scheduling uncertainty is good for anyone’s bottom line.

As we have seen since the New Meadowlands’ maiden voyage, horsemen too have options and loyalty can only get one so far.

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What the Meadowlands once had was an institution that dominated the racing scene primarily during the winter months. Gamblers knew that new horses would come to town in January and the cards would be filled with shippers and a wide-range of trainers and drivers competing.

The Meadowlands business model has obviously needed alteration considering the bevvy of slot-infused purse structures at neighboring racetracks. At the same time a track without slots must have the very best racing product in order to solicit gamblers with regularity. The shrinking of dates during the winter could have a dramatically negative impact on field size and for that matter driver presence.

What becomes of a racetrack that races just two days a week during the winter?

Primarily if you look at the condition sheet put out just for the first weekend of action there is a sense that ultimately every condition known to man is available. On the surface it suggests a plethora of racing opportunities. Yet in reality a majority of those races will not fill and ultimately races that don’t fill hurt those trying to get raced.

The Meadowlands was always the home of the leading drivers in North America. That too could suffer in some ways if the racing opportunities shrink in the dead of the winter. Is it realistic to ask drivers to race weekdays at other tracks and come to the Meadowlands just on weekends? With Yonkers carding 60 races per week with the most attractive purses on Friday and Saturday nights are drivers going to skip the most lucrative paydays? Not to mention that five of the eight horses in the races at Yonkers get purse money.

It’s a difficult balancing act for the Meadowlands as they wait for an era that will include slot money. At the same time it’s hard to conceive what the addition of weekend programs could mean in August and September if they don’t include top horses or top drivers, who would conceivably be racing elsewhere in Grand Circuit races at that time of year. The suggestion of racing 2-year-old trotters and pacers at that time belies the type of racing product that gamblers have flocked to for nearly 40 years.

Fortunately for those that love racing, 2016 is not yet upon us and The Meadowlands arrival brings with it a chance to see the top aged performers close out the year and some of the best 2-year-olds in action in four major late season stakes events.

It would have been nice to see Freaky Feet Pete continue his unbelievable streak with a trip to the Meadowlands for the TVG Final. As a Breeders Crown winner he could have knocked heads with the aged performers on November 21. His trainer indicated on Saturday after capturing the American-National that Freaky Feet Pete was done for the year. Maybe there’s still time for some arm-twisting to convince the Indiana-bred phenom to make an appearance in the Garden State.

One horse that will have to wait until next year is Always B Miki. Though TVG conditions are drafted in such a way to allow track management to alter every single line written, it hardly seems fair to invite a horse guaranteed to be the odds-on favorite just because it “can” be done. Though he did capture the Breeders Crown, the current TVG conditions only allow the 3-year-old Crown champion to race against the older foes.

JAYWALKING:

It was nice to see Artspeak find a home at Hanover Shoe Farms. The son of Western Ideal is keenly positioned at the advertised $5,000 stud fee to do a serious amount of business in the coming breeding season. With an outstanding pedigree and enough racing success during two years on the track, Artspeak should attract a large band of broodmares with owners looking for a different option. At the same time, Artspeak’s future offspring may find themselves ineligible to a series of racing opportunities primarily at the Meadowlands, Vernon Downs and Tioga.

In as much as I’d love to see the Yonkers simulcast arrangement work for those in France and other European countries, it was most painful to wake up early enough to watch Sunday’s second race and see a field of 12 horses following in single file without one being parked during the first three quarters of the mile and a quarter contest. Only the pan camera in the homestretch the second time allowed us to see all of the horses as the primary shot only cast light on the first five.

You have to give Ontario based horseman Michael Brealey credit for an astute claim. The conditioner picked up Prescotts Hope from an $8,000 claiming handicap in May and on Saturday sent the son of No Pan Intended to a spectacular wire-to-wire 1:49 2/5 victory in a $34,000 Preferred Handicap pace at Woodbine.

We’re certain there were plenty of horsemen at the recently concluded Harrisburg Mixed sale hoping to come away with the next J L Cruze.

 

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