09/16/2014 11:15AM

Meadowlands opens 14-day, all-turf Thoroughbred meet at new facility

Jim Lisa/Lisa Photography
Last year's Thoroughbred meet at the original Meadowlands grandstand was unable to support night racing, but this year's 14-day meet will have a first post time of 7 p.m. Eastern for all but two cards.

A 14-day Monmouth-at-Meadowlands Thoroughbred meet will begin Thursday. The all-turf Meadowlands season will continue through Nov. 2, Breeders’ Cup Saturday.

Last year, the Meadowlands hosted 10 days of turf racing after the Monmouth Park season had ended. This year, the two meets will overlap in September, with Meadowlands racing Thursday and Friday nights and Monmouth Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The Meadowlands dates will switch to Fridays and Saturdays beginning Oct. 3 after the conclusion of the Monmouth season. There is no Sunday racing at the Meadowlands during the NFL season as the Giants and Jets share the sports complex with the racetrack.

The Meadowlands is primarily a Standardbred track now, and this will be the first Thoroughbred meet in the new grandstand that opened last November. The smaller, more modern facility was built at a reported cost of $88 million by Jeff Gural, who operates racing at Meadowlands under a lease agreement with the state. Last year’s Thoroughbred stand was the last one held at the original Meadowlands grandstand, which opened in 1976.

While last year’s all-turf meet was held during the day, first post this season will be 7 p.m. Eastern, with the exception of Breeders’ Cup Friday (1 p.m.) and Saturday (noon). Six-race cards are planned.

“I’ve always thought night racing would be very important for this meet,” said Dennis Drazin, head of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which leases Monmouth from the state and oversees the Meadowlands meet. “We wanted to do it last year but couldn’t because we were at the old facility and the lights were not functioning. At this time of year, there really aren’t any strong night signals around the country, and I think there is an appetite for it.”

The Meadowlands meet is the only live Thoroughbred racing of the year in northern New Jersey, even though the facility serves as a year-round simulcast hub and is surrounded by a large population base.

“This meet allows us the opportunity to bring our entertainment to northern New Jersey,” Drazin said. “It allows us to explore new territory and bring live horse racing to a new customer base. Also, by the end of September, the turf at Monmouth, and at a lot of tracks on the East Coast, is shot and we get to come to this unused turf. I was up there a week ago and the grass looks great.”

There are no stakes at the Meadowlands meet, and the quality of racing is modest. The Thursday feature is a $16,000 starter allowance race.

The opening-night jockey colony includes the top three top riders at Monmouth, Paco Lopez, Eddie Castro, and Gabriel Saez.

Admission, seating, and parking are free, and several special promotions are planned: Fireworks will be held after the races this Friday; Scotch-n-Smoke will feature unique scotches and cigars on Oct. 4; and an Oktoberfest food truck night is scheduled for Oct. 11.

Pink, the main restaurant at the Meadowlands, will be open, as will the Victory Sports Bar and The Lounge.