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.