It looks like there is a chance that Jeff Gural might be a willing buyer for the Meadowlands. In yesterday's Daily Record, Gural said he "may have solutions for the Meadowlands".
This would be a game-changer.
Gural, who owns Vernon and Tioga Downs is his own man - a successful one at that - who loves racing and is not afraid to try things this business barely pays lip-service to. Over the past several years he has floated out ideas like having horses unable to breed before age 5, adding purse money to the older divisions and created a business where our horses can race longer and become known. This of course angered breeders. He has also shown a willingness to stand up to horsemen groups when he feels they are not rowing the racing boat to prosperity, angering them. He stood up and lowered takeout at Tioga Downs, angering some in the depths of this static-business who all-to-often fall back on the words "we can't".
Anyone who angers everyone has to be good.
The Meadowlands is currently run by some people who know what they are doing - there is little doubt about it. However, like most in racing who want change, they are handcuffed by disparate interests. Sooner or later all they want to do is cash a paycheck and go home. A lot of us do not blame them. However, Gural is a mover and a shaker and he does not cash a paycheck and go home - he forces change.
In New York this past year he went to the wagering board and said "I am lowering takeout". He did. Tioga Downs now has the lowest takeout in North American harness racing; he did that by lowering it to New York State mandatory minimums. That is not really enough for him, though. As his racing manager noted recently:
"We'd like to see the takeout rates reduced even further to put the horse racing gamblers on the same level as a slot machine. The slot machines are generally between eight and ten per cent."
In this sport, a racing manager who says things like this publicly is usually muzzled. With Gural, ideas like this are encouraged.
This thinking - this outside the norm, let's change this sport and make it better by throwing out the conventional which has only given us negative growth - is rare. But Gural has it.
The Meadowlands and Jersey in general is ripe for radical change. Their legislature recently passed a number of items they hope moves the sport closer to the 21st century world. Chris Christie, racings favorite whipping boy, is a free-marketer and has asked racing to stand on its own two feet. This is a blessing for someone like Gural. If he brings a free-market change to him for the track, there is an audience. There would be no wagering board to beg, no CHRB telling a track owner how to price his gambling product, no Governor's office telling him "if you don't do this, I'm going to ....".
New Jersey racing might not win the fight with Gural at the helm of its largest track, but at least they would be in the fight. It would be the ultimate game changer, and in a sport in dire need of a new direction based on sound business management, customer-centric policies and a captain leading the ship, we should all be hoping it happens.
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