11/20/2013 2:34PM

Bob Pandolfo: New Meadowlands could offer a different style of racing

Derick Giwner
Horses at the Meadowlands will now start and finish on the former backstretch.

With the Meadowlands starting its races on the opposite side of the track due to the creation of a new grandstand, one would assume that the frequent strong tailwind nights will now be headwind nights. Although it remains to be seen if the addition and location of the new structure has any effect on the wind currents, my guess is that you will see a lot of headwind nights and very few tailwind nights.

The tailwinds that have been part of the racing at the Meadowlands since it's inception normally helped closers and hurt front runners. From a race watching perspective, handicappers have always been on the look out for horses that raced gamely first-over into the strong backstretch wind or set the pace into the strong wind.

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With a headwind, the wind will be in the horse's faces as they leave the gate and as they finish in the stretch. This could help horses that have a clear lead coming into the stretch. When there's a headwind, you'll see some drivers that have the lead try to extend their lead on the turn so when they come into the stretch they have a nice 3 or 4 length cushion. With the wind blowing from right to left, horses trying to rally from far back in the stretch may have a difficult time, so the racing could become more speed favoring.

But I think we have to be cognizant of the fact that throughout the history of the Meadowlands, headwind nights were rare. If headwind nights are going to become more common, I believe you'll see the drivers make adjustments to their strategy.

Many of you will remember that when Yonkers had the shorter 440 foot stretch and still used the old wooden sulkies, there was a lot of movement at the three quarters. Because of the short stretch, if a driver had a sharp horse sitting second or third over, he would usually prefer to go three-wide midway down the backstretch or at the three quarters. These early moves resulted in very exciting racing into and around the final turn. As the steel sulkies made the racing faster and more speed favoring, Yonkers had to lengthen the stretch because the third quarter fractions were too fast for the closers to make that wide brush.

Up until a few years ago, Northfield Park also had a lot of exciting backside brushes, but the speed-favoring nature of the sport has hurt that type of move on half mile tracks. You still see that type of action, but not as often.

The Meadowlands, however, is a different story. Because of the longer straightaway and wider turns, I think it may be easier for a horse to make that three wide brush at the three quarters. The reason why we don't see it that often is because of the long stretch. Most drivers prefer to be patient and try to gain ground in the stretch. But, a headwind could change that strategy.

Let's look back at a few of the most successful Meadowlands drivers over the years.  John Campbell and Brian Sears both have had tremendous success at the Meadowlands. Although they both won plenty of races when they left the gate, they're known more for those last-second come-from-behind wins. Sears drives regularly at Yonkers now, a speed-favoring half mile track, and still wins more races from off the pace than any of the other drivers.

But aggressive drivers like George Brennan, Luc Ouellette and Tim Tetrick have also done extremely well at the Meadowlands. When Brennan was driving regularly at the Big M, he made that big sweeping three wide move at the three quarters more than any driver I've seen, and it worked for him. Tetrick, of course, still drives regularly at the Meadowlands. If there are a lot of headwind nights, it will be interesting to see if the drivers who are naturally more aggressive have an advantage.

From a strategic standpoint, drivers don't like having to go uncovered into the wind. That's why on windy tailwind nights at the Meadowlands, and other tracks, you'll often see the first over horse pull late, at the five eighths, because the drivers want to take as little wind in their face as possible. They know that it’s a tough trip. Basically, you want the wind at your back as much as possible and vice versa. So I would think that if there are a lot of headwind nights, the drivers will make adjustments so they don't have to fight the wind. This means more movement down the backstretch and around the final turn, sort of what we saw at Yonkers during its heyday.

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Furthermore, it's possible that a strong headwind could result in more action during the first quarter. Since headwinds make it tough on closers, drivers that have a solid contender may look to leave the gate rather than take back and get caught racing against a speed bias into a headwind. So the first quarters could be rather heated. With more action at the start and more action at the three quarters, there may be more fast-paced races than before.

It will be interesting to see what develops. I think the main thing for good racing at the Meadowlands is competitive 10-horse fields. Last winter they had competitive 9- or 10-horse fields and the racing was very good and the betting public responded appropriately as the handle soared.

Of course this year we have the added excitement of a brand new building with new restaurants and skyline views. During the winter the Meadowlands has its best product because there are enough horses to full the cards. I'm looking forward to it.

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Road, Northampton, PA 18067.