01/04/2012 2:42PM

New Meadowlands begins its era

Lisa Photo
New banking of the Meadowlands racing surface is designed to increase the momentum of outside horses attempting to rally from off the pace as the field moves into the stretch.

Following more than a year of uncertainty and political red tape, new operator Jeff Gural will finally be able to cut the ribbon on his $100 million gamble in East Rutherford, N.J. New Meadowlands will start its 81-day meet on Friday with 12 full fields and high hopes for the future.

Gural, chairman of New Meadowlands Racetrack LLC, began negotiations to become the first private owner of the Meadowlands back in December of 2010. A 69-year-old commercial real estate developer and avid harness racing fan, Gural now has a 31-year lease and plans to revitalize the facility, which debuted in 1976.

The rejuvenation of the sport’s biggest stage began with the modification of the turns to include a 10-percent banking. The new configuration is designed to increase the momentum of outside horses attempting a rally from off the pace as the field moves into the stretch.

And Gural is not stopping with the turns in hopes of improving the racing product.

“We are meeting with the drivers and judges in hopes of going back in time to the driving style that used to exist here,” said Gural of his current agenda. “I heard many complaints from customers about the courtesy tucks” – drivers allowing other horses to settle in along the pylons rather than race on the outside – “and half-in, half-out tactics” – drivers who race just off the pylons to prevent other horses from making forward progress on the outside. I banked the turns because some of the drivers told me it would help make the races more competitive. Now I would like their help in the form of more aggressive driving.”

The food and wagering menus are also getting a face-lift in 2012. The track’s concessions are expected to offer higher quality items, with a new vendor taking over operations of the food and beverage department. The rolling pick three has been removed and superfectas have been added to all races. Back by popular demand are the guaranteed pick four pools. Thursday and Friday will feature a $50,000 guarantee, with the Saturday guarantee at $75,000.

The meet will once again be anchored by the $1.5 million Hambletonian on Aug. 4 and the $800,000 Meadowlands Pace on July 14. The official launch to the Meadowlands stakes calendar is Thursday, Jan. 26, when the Super Bowl and White Ruffles finals will be contested.

Following opening weekend, New Meadowlands will offer a Thursday-to-Saturday schedule through March 10. From March 16 to June 23, Thursdays will be dropped (no racing on April 27-28). Thursday racing will return on June 28, and the three-day schedule continues until Aug. 4. At that point, racing will continue for two more weeks on Friday and Saturday only. The track will open for a two-day meet on Dec. 28-29.

Post time at the Meadowlands is 7 p.m.


2012 New Meadowlands Meet Preview

2012 Stakes Schedule

Opening Night at the New Meadowlands: Free PPs & Analysis