12/30/2012 12:01AM

Meadowlands: Changes spur handle increases on opening weekend

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Lisa Photo
Hillbilly Hanover prances through the snow to capture the featured A1 Pace.

The Meadowlands opened this weekend (Dec. 28 & 29) without any stakes races or big name horses on the Friday and Saturday cards. The attraction was a new betting menu and competitive races which helped spur a strong uptick in wagering compared to the 2012 winter meet’s first two cards back in January.

On Friday the New Jersey oval posted an impressive $2,691,107 total handle on the 12-race card. That amount was a 24% increase from January 6, 2012 when the Meadowlands handled $2,166,584.

Despite poor weather conditions on the east coast, a similar increase, albeit less dramatic, took place on Saturday when handle swelled from $2,725,660 on the second card in January to $2,898,623 a 6% rise year-over-year.

“I felt we made a handful of positive changes regarding the racing product prior to the season starting and I expected that to be reflected in our handle,” said Director of Racing Operations Darin Zoccali. “That being said, other than better weather on Saturday, I couldn't be happier with the weekend we had.”

A trio of factors clearly played into the large wagering numbers.

The Meadowlands made some drastic wagering changes at the start of the 2012 meet in January that did not sit well with fans and was quickly rectified. On Friday the track reopened with close to a perfect choice of wagering options. Besides the obvious of adding a second guaranteed pick four which created substantial new money for the pools, management did a fine job of ensuring that the menu doesn’t step all over itself by offering too many exotics in one race. If there is a pick four, there is no superfecta or pick three.

With the Meadowlands opening during the week between Christmas and New Years when many people take vacation time and are flush with holiday bonus money, the track was bound to see an increase over a January opening date.

Last but not least, the ABC classification system re-introduced for the 2012-13 meet clearly produced more competitive races and provided the public with more wagering options.

Despite industry-wide complaints from people who would like to see races to go off at post time, inadvertently the track proved that dragging out post time and lagging on “0 minutes to post” works. After averaging about $180,000 in total handle for races 8 and 9 on Saturday, there was a brief delay prior to race 10 causing handle to skyrocket to $280,000 despite offering identical wagering options.

Handle numbers aside, Yannick Gingras shared the spotlight by scoring an impressive seven wins during the weekend action. After a modest pair of wins on Friday, the leading driver at the Meadowlands in 2012 picked up a handful of victories on Saturday, including four for trainer Ron Burke.

Live racing continues at the Meadowlands on a Thursday to Saturday schedule in 2013 through March 16 before Thursdays are dropped from the weekly offering.