07/20/2016 11:04AM

Zoccali: A pleasurable night at The Meadowlands

Nikki Sherman
Lady Shadow set a world record for 1-1/8 at The Meadowlands on Saturday night.

On Saturday night, I attended The Meadowlands as a customer and a fan as opposed to an employee for the first time in about a decade.  I hadn’t missed a Meadowlands Pace since 1995 and wasn’t about to start now.

My wagering on Pace Night consisted of mostly horizontal exotics (Pick 5, Pick 4, etc.) as well as some play on Del Mar as I am a thoroughbred player as well.  At The Meadowlands I cashed tickets on the Pick 5 and both Pick 4’s and showed a $21 profit for the evening.  Normally I would find that frustrating, but on this night, it didn’t faze me at all.

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I am one of the most vocal supporters when it comes to the importance of the bettor in the racing industry, but on Meadowlands Pace night, I found myself more as a fan than as a bettor.  Why on this night?  It was due to the breathtaking performances throughout the racing program and watching the superstars of the sport deliver championship performances on a level we haven’t seen very often.

The signature race of the night, The Meadowlands Pace, was a two-horse race on paper.  Hardly a bettor’s dream, it played out that way on the racetrack.  Interestingly enough, Racing Hill was released as the 17/10 second choice in the wagering.  While in the days after his win in the Max Hempt Memorial Racing Hill appeared to be the odds-on choice for “The Pace”, he would not even be the post-time favorite.  That honor went to Control The Moment, a 7/10 favorite off his explosive win in the Meadowlands Pace Elimination.  The third choice was Boston Red Rocks at 10-1, solidifying the notion that this was a two horse race. 

As expected, the two favorites quickly asserted themselves on the front-end, with Racing Hill making the lead first and Control The Moment brushing past his foe heading down the backstretch.  The outcome of the race was likely determined on the far turn, where Racing Hill struggled with his gait allowing Control The Moment to gain separation on his rival.  At that point it appeared Control The Moment would win by as much as Brian Sears wanted, but Racing Hill dug in late and came roaring after the leader through the stretch, with nothing more than a nose separating the two on the wire in what was a spell-binding stretch drive.  I certainly have been critical of the depth of this 3-year-old pacing crop and feel it is still likely that both Control The Moment and Racing Hill are below-average when it comes to comparing them to the best sophomore pacers of the 21st century, but they put on a show, nonetheless.

While the Meadowlands Pace saw two horses dueling to the wire, many of the other end results from the races left us simply in awe of inspiring power-house performances.

In The William Haughton Memorial, the “big three” as they have become known within the industry, lined up in an overloaded field of twelve.  In the end, Always B Miki proved two notions that have been suggested by many to be true.  First, that once he makes the lead, he is practically impossible to get by. Second, that he is the best of one of the most spectacular free-for-all pacing groups we have ever seen.  At the time he hit the wire, Always B Miki established a new world record for the 1-1/8 mile distance, granted the record wouldn’t be his for very long.  There are those within the industry exclaiming that he might just be the most talented pacer/standardbred we have ever seen and while I am hesitant to compare horses from different generations, I am running out of reasons to debate that point.

The most awe-inspiring race of the evening belonged to Lady Shadow, who was parked out for the first five-eighths of the 1-1/8 mile Golden Girls.  Yet despite that fact, the margin between Lady Shadow and the rest of the field only increased throughout the race once she made the lead.  Not only did she pace a mile in 1:47, which equaled the fastest mile ever paced by a filly or mare, but her 2:00 3/5 clocking for the mile and one-eighth was three-fifths faster than Always B Miki paced earlier in the evening.  You can make the argument that the effort by Lady Shadow was the single greatest race ever paced by a mare in the history of the sport, and in person, it was simply sensational to watch.

Not to be outdone was Hannelore Hanover in the Hambletonian Maturity.  The long-striding mare dominated her male rivals and put forth the kind of effort that makes you wonder where her ceiling is.  I, for one, was wondering if Mission Brief (also trained by Ron Burke) was racing, would she really be better than Hannelore Hanover is now? She powered away from her rivals effortlessly throughout the stretch and I don’t have much doubt in the idea that she can compete with the best free for all trotters in the country, Resolve included.

I didn’t come away from The Meadowlands any richer than I was when I got there.  The average win-mutuel this past Saturday night was just $5.00 as opposed to over $31.00 on Pace night last year.  That fact certainly negatively impacted handle figures.  While favorites can help churn, such dominance of overwhelming favorites can stop churn just as quickly.  There really wasn’t an opportunity for the bettors, myself included, to reinvest sizeable winnings into the subsequent races, but like other bettors, I saw some history.  While in racing seeing an awe-inspiring performance is not necessarily uncommon, seeing them reeled off in rapid succession on the same race-card certainly is special.

In addition to the Meadowlands Pace card providing a night of spectacular performances, it was also a preview of Hambletonian Day.  I don’t know if it is fair to expect the greatness on the level we saw on Pace night to simply repeat itself on Hambo Day, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.  With the likes of Resolve, Hannelore Hanover, Control The Moment, Always B Miki, Lady Shadow and Southwind Frank all eligible to the stakes-laden Hambo-Day program, a parade of favorites is certainly possible again. It also ensures the bettors that if they are able to find the right horse to pull off an upset, they will be rewarded handsomely.

I’ll be attending Hambletonian Day.  I don’t know if I will confidently be able to take stands against the champions I saw dominate on Pace night, but I know I am looking forward to seeing them again.  It’s not just okay for racing to be about that, it’s imperative, because casual racing fans will want to come back and see that again.  For avid fans, like myself, it’s what makes this sport great.  See you Hambo Day!