03/08/2012 11:39AM

Meadowlands: Rags To Riches offers big money for claimers on Saturday


In a sport in desperate need of innovation, the New Meadowlands has found a winner. On Saturday night 10 horses with humble recent history, vie for $127,950 in the Rags To Riches final.

New Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural is in fact the architect of this late-closing event that required a $550 initial nomination fee as well as a $550 entry fee. With a healthy 88 owners nominating horses that had raced in a $10,000 claimer or lower in its past four starts, and some 81 entering the first round some four weeks ago, a great series emerged.

New Meadowlands race secretary Peter Koch said that the Rags to Riches had its roots at Tioga Downs, another Gural-owned track in New York, but noted, “They never had this kind of purse for the final.” Koch offers a parallel to high-stakes poker when looking at the Rags To Riches. Horsemen ante up and buy in to the first round and eventually the event is pared down to 10 finalists. Unlike in poker the top five in Saturday’s contest will earn purse money.

While Koch doesn’t like to pick favorites he was a bit let down when the logical choice in Saturday’s final, Oscar Oscar, drew post 2. Oscar Oscar earned the spot in the final by capturing the first three legs of the event. The Rags To Riches saw eight divisions during its opening round with the top five finishers returning for second round action. The same rules applied until last week when the top five finishers from the final two divisions advanced.

Oscar Oscar is in the capable hands of trainer Julie Miller, and her husband, Andy Miller, will be in the bike again on Saturday. His three straight series victories came from posts 7, 8 and 9. But while Saturday’s post offers him a respite of sorts, clearly the six-figure purse should make the race a bit more interesting. Koch believed one of the big bonuses of the Rags To Riches has been its ability to draw horses from outside the area.

Colonel Moffitt, an 8-year-old who was racing in $10,000 claimers at Windsor and Woodbine (both in Ontario) has an excellent chance of posting the upset. In the sure hands of Brian Sears, Colonel Moffitt won two consecutive legs of the series and proved a solid second to Oscar Oscar in last week’s final elimination round. Nat Varty trains Colonel Moffitt and will also send out the streaking Rockin Glass from the pole position. Dave Miller is listed to drive the 4-year-old son of Rocknroll Hanover who enters the race in top form with consecutive front-end victories.

Speed should be in great supply considering the presence of Laguna Beach from post 3 in this rich final. The 7-year-old by Real Artist has been a top performer at the Meadowlands for years and earned a spot in the final with a victory and two third-place finishes. Laguna Beach had to earn the respect of many in second round action when he made a few aggressive moves and was contending in a wicked three-quarter clocking of 1:23. The meet’s leading driver Yannick Gingras will handle the lines behind Laguna Beach.

Trainer Yogi Sheridan plucked Alastair Hanover from a $10,000 claimer earlier this year at Yonkers. He quickly had the horse advance to the $30,000 level before entering the Rags to Riches. With no claiming allowed in this series, Sheridan figured to have a huge edge. Thus far Alastair Hanover has but one win in the series but that could change with driver Tim Tetrick at the wheel on Saturday. The pair starts from post 5.

It’s not every day that $10,000 claimers go for a purse of this magnitude, leading Koch to expect plenty of activity in Saturday’s 10th race. “I think you’ll see a lot of action with that much money riding,” he said.

There are some who would argue that with the Meadowlands putting up $35,000 added money for the final that the horsemen are racing for their own money. But in the true sense of this gambling game, aren’t bettors better off when everybody has a stake in the game?