Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Meadowlands Done - A Shot Between the Eyes

Today the recommendations for the Meadowlands were released. In it, the Meadowlands as we have known it, is gone. There are seemingly two options for the track, and they are:

•Lease the Meadowlands Racetrack to the standardbred horsemen for $1 dollar a year for three years with early termination rights and an equity-based share of the Bayonne OTW parlor.

•Convert to a commercial use one of the standardbred farms in New Jersey that has a mile track, and build a 5,000 seat grandstand complete with all necessary amenities.

The first option simply seems undoable. Yes, we can go to any backstretch and hear horseman groups lament about the amenities at a track, but they don't run them. $10M a year losses at the Meadowlands, despite the highest handles in harness racing, is simply a non-starter, in my opinion. Even if they ran a 30 day meet, jam packed with excitement and stakes, it would be tough to maintain things year round there. If something is done with this, I wish them luck and I hope I am wrong.

The second item seems like it would get some support. However, the same problems (neighboring slots tracks killing entries) are still there.

This looks to me to be the culmination of slots in racing, and the lack of leadership with them. I think we have long lived with reality here on this blog, and elsewhere, where we knew slots and the lack of leadership would result in something like this. When drivers were jumping ship from the Meadowlands to race at Chester for a few more dollars, when trainers were running to Pocono and Chester and Yonkers for slightly higher slots-purses and when almost everyone believed that it would have no effect on the sport; well now they see reality. This should be a lesson to horsemen and their groups in places like Pennsylvania and Ontario, but I doubt it. Reality and harness racing only happens when one day we wake up and find ourselves racing for ribbons and a cooler.

What does this do for the sport of harness racing if indeed the Big M is no more? Well, it hurts it badly. Chester, Pocono, Yonkers, the Meadows and other slots-fuelled tracks can card some good fields, but they won't attract a big betting dollar. The die-hards will watch and play, but big bettors (like they have been for a few years now) will change their bailiwick - to the thoroughbreds. A $6000 pick 6 guarantee at the Meadows, or a $500,000 pick 4 guarantee at Saratoga makes for not a tough decision for people who bet $100 or more a race.

The lack of leadership most astounds me I guess. If this were Major League Baseball and five or six ball parks were created with public money, offered $10 seats and were located around Boston and New York, whereby those two franchises would be hurt, this would never happen. MLB would find a way to keep their two largest franchises going. They would beg, borrow or steal to make it happen. In our sport? It's a vacuum. We let outside subsidized tracks steal dates and entries from the Meadowlands - our flagship track - and we did nothing but run and get the money.

Surprise, the money is now running out.

The writing has been on the wall for years at the Meadowlands and elsewhere. The alarm bells were ringing, and like a fire drill at an office complex, we just ignored it.

Harness racing as a whole will pay dearly for this oversight, whether the Meadowlands closes next year, or the year after. The $4M nightly weekend handles at the Meadowlands will not be replaced - if you think Pocono and Chester's handles will go up by 1000% to pick up the lost handle, you are simply delusional. The exporting of the Meadowlands signal across the world like they did at last year's Hambo with $2M in handle from Sweden, will not be replaced. The flagship track - the harness racing brand - would be done. And with it goes a huge slice of this sports future.

8 comments:

The_Knight_Sky said...

I am waiting for the official announcement today and along with it more details on what can be done with The Meadowlands Racetrack (and around the state).

If it wasn't for the house that Sonny Werblin built I would not be typing this message. I would have been a different person altogether had I not seen Nihilator, Dragon's Lair, Banker Blue Chip, Laag, Instrument Landing, Save Fuel and all the rest.

My interest in horse racing would not be at this level if not for those standardbreds racing at The Meadowlands.

So a part of me still believes that a rabbit can be pulled out of the hat. Perhaps not all at once but one step at a time. Keep The Faith!

Anonymous said...

I have never, nor will ever, bet a dime at tracks like Chester and Pocono. Hello Saratoga...... or better yet.... know anywhere where I can play a table game?

RR said...

If the big m is shut harness handles will plummet. I play harness (not as much as I used to but over 500k per year) and that is only because of the big m. I play harness when they open, and stop when they close. I play other tracks during their time open. Without them open I have no need or want to play harness racing.

Anonymous said...

I would like to say 'this is just a recommendation' but Christie is one of the few politicians who has actually been implementing what commissions tell him. If it was here in Ontario we'd be fine, but in Jersey under a guy who has been hammering the state losses and deficit...... I tend to believe almost every word of this.

Pull the Pocket said...

Anon,

I agree with you. Christie is no-nonsense. He has every special interest group, unions, virtually everyone yelling at him for a break for their slice, but he is not budging. If this bi-partisan report is given to him I fully expect it to be implemented to a large degree.

I have been reading a little this afternoon. Both Dave Briggs here:

http://www.canadiansportsman.ca/Sportsman-Extra/Last-Call-Online

and Darryl Kaplan here:

http://www.standardbredcanada.ca/news/7-21-10/report-future-racing-new-jersey.html#comment-13761

are focusing on the casinos being cowtowed to. I disagree. Who would we expect a government to bend to, an entire city with billions of bucks going through it, or a racing industry that no one seems to want to watch? Not to mention, AC has a mayor, Trump, casino owners and politicos who depend on it. We have who exactly? Can we name one person in harness racing who has some clout. If we had a commissioner and a league office maybe, but really who is there to spread the message like AC has?

PTP

Pacingguy said...

Just to clarify something. While I believe a significant part of the money being wagered at the Meadowlands would be wagered on other harness tracks, let me make it clear that a portion of the money wagered on the Meadowlands will be lost; no doubt about it.

Pull the Pocket said...

Pacing Guy,

Look at handles when the Meadowlands closes in August every year. There is almost NO spike in handles at other tracks. Mohawk has grand circuit racing (pretty much) right after with millions in purses, the best drivers and horses - no spike at all. The M handle almost goes poof.

PTP

The_Knight_Sky said...

Mr. Kaplan commented:

>>> To support a struggling Atlantic City, and its 11 casinos - six of which face bankruptcy or major debt restructuring, while neglecting one of the areas where New Jersey could easily be a world leader, is bizarre and extremely disappointing.
_____________________

What is interesting to me today is for the first time in my life I feel a tug-o-war going on between North and South Jersey.

That's not the NJ I've grown accustomed to. DRF's Matt Hegarty quotes NJRC's Dennis Drazin as "business as usual" for at least the next year.

I'm trying to take solace in that
and hopefully cooler heads will prevail.

There are a lot of things that need to be done, but throwing the baby out with the bathwater isn't one of them.