In an open letter to the industry, track owner Jeff Gural, who is in the process of trying to work out a long-term lease of the Meadowlands Racetrack, has encouraged horse owners to make the February 15 stakes payments. He has also encouraged horsepeople participating in slots-fuelled states to put aside five per cent for marketing
The contents of Gural's open letter appear below.
I know firsthand that this is the week that we all have to make stakes payments on our champion two-year-olds and those three-year-olds who would have been champions last year except for minor issues. Obviously, with the uncertainty at the Meadowlands, my advice would be to make the February payments because if we are not able to find a way to keep it open those payments will all be returned.
If there are other stakes at the same time as the Meadowlands stakes it might be a good idea to double-stake your horse if the payments are not too great, as there is certainly no guarantee that we are going to be able to work out a long-term lease. I think the governor has made it clear that he will allow a six-day meet in August to ensure that the Hambletonian and Oaks are raced per the contract with the Hambletonian Society, and my guess is there will be several other stakes races during that same period depending on the availability of purse money.
The biggest problem, as I see it, is how you finance a racetrack that does not have slots when it is obvious that wagering on horseracing continues to decline as our older customers either die or become too old to come to the tracks. It is very discouraging to see that wagering on the Meadowlands signal so far this year is off 20 per cent. Some of which can be blamed on the weather, some of which can be blamed on the closing of NYC OTB and the loss of the OTB TV channel in New York City and the outer boroughs which showed harness racing from the Meadowlands, Yonkers, Northfield and often Woodbine live. That channel has now been taken over by NYRA and they only show thoroughbred racing and go off the air at 8:00 p.m.
While I think I could get people to come to a new Meadowlands we also rely on customers at other tracks to wager on our product and if those tracks are not marketing the product there is very little that I can do to change that dynamic.
One suggestion, if we are truly interested in the long-term future of our sport, would be for the horsemen at the tracks that have slots to take five per cent of the slot money and use it to market the product with particular emphasis on bringing new and younger people to view the product. I think this is a small sacrifice to make in order to ensure that the young people who work in our business have a future and do not find themselves without a career in 10 or 15 years. I know four of the five people that work on my two farms are in their early 30s and Jason is also in his early 30s and these people deserve at least a chance to make a career out of our great sport.
I would hope to have a better idea of whether or not we can make a deal to lease the Meadowlands before the March 15 payments are due and I continue to work quite hard in order to accomplish our goal which is to keep the Meadowlands open not only this year but for the long-term with a new grandstand, as well as opening several OTW facilities.
I hope this information is helpful as in all honesty this is a unique situation. Stakes payments are hard enough without this uncertainty but it is what it is.