Entering the final racing season taking place with the original Meadowlands Racetrack grandstand, a great number of changes were put in place to enhance the racing product, keeping in mind that the Meadowlands Racetrack does not have the benefit of slots revenue to enhance its purses.
The most significant of those changes being the implementation of the Classified Racing System, with the goal of creating more wide-open betting races and fewer short-priced favourites. Some other changes included moving first-race post time to 7:15 p.m. and adding an Early Pick 4 wager. By the end of the winter meet, the betting public made it clear that they like the direction of the New Meadowlands Racetrack.
The comparison of the Winter Meet 2013 to the Winter Meet 2012 is staggering. Thus far, the total handle of $125,281,424 is an increase of $30,768,707 or 32.5 per cent. Based on the most recent figures provided by the United States Trotting Association, the Meadowlands Racetrack is responsible for almost 25 per cent of all wagers on standardbred racing in the United States, thus it continues to drive the sport of harness racing.
“The 2013 season at the Meadowlands has revolved around improving our racing product, improving our wagering format and providing the best customer service possible,” said general manager Jason Settlemoir. “We are asking people to wager their hard-earned dollars with us and we feel it is our responsibility to provide our customers with the most enjoyable, entertaining and customer-friendly experience possible. We have taken great strides in 2013 to accomplish these goals. We look forward to being able to bring that experience to a whole new level this November as we move into our brand new facility.”
The addition of the Early Pick 4 has also proven to be an enormous success. The wager had an average pool of $54,153 through the winter meet, with an average payoff of $2,184. The total handle on the Early Pick 4 was $2,369,171. During the 2012 Winter Meet, there was $298,188 wagered on the now-defunct Pick 6. Thus, the Early Pick 4 has brought an additional $2,070,983 in handle. Furthermore, the Early Pick 4 seemed to help the other guaranteed wagers. The Pick 5 averaged a pool of $48,157, compared to $35,936 in 2012 and the Late Pick 4 averaged a pool of $82,813 compared to $75,214 in 2012.
The larger average payouts these wagers boast, is a testament to the introduction of classified racing. The average payout in the Pick 5 was $6,953, compared to $2,571 in 2012. The Late Pick 4 showed a spike as well from $3,463 in 2012 to $3,941 in 2013. The classified system of racing also showed a reduction of winning favorites from 44 per cent to 38 per cent.
“There were several changes made that seemed to really hit home with our customers when it comes to our racing product,” said director of racing operations Darin Zoccali. “First and foremost, race secretary Peter Koch has done an extraordinary job implementing the Classified System of racing here at the Meadowlands. Since opening night of the winter meet, the racing has been fantastic, with large prices galore and fewer short-priced winning favourites. The addition of the Early Pick 4 has been welcomed by our players and has turned into one of the most popular bets in harness racing. We threw a lot of different things at the wall at once, and thankfully many of those things stuck.”
Winners Bayonne has been making great strides in 2013 as well. After showing modest gains in January and February, Winners Bayonne had by far its best month in March and continues to grow approaching the summer months.
“This has been an important year for us as a business,” said chairman Jeff Gural. “As we begin our transition into the new building, it was important for us to build momentum leading up to that moment. While the winter months are always best for our business, the results from this winter exceeded our expectations. I only hope we can continue to receive the support of the industry so we can continue this momentum into the Championship Meet and ultimately into November as we open our new facility. This year is pivotal to the future of the Meadowlands and we certainly got off on the right foot.”
The Championship Meet returns to the East Rutherford oval on Friday May 3 and will follow a Friday/Saturday schedule through Hambletonian Day, Saturday August 3.
The centrepiece of the opening weekend of the Championship Meet is the $100,000 Meadowlands Maturity for four-year-old trotters, which seems to be a target for many of the sports stars.
“While implementing a rule that the Meadowlands would not allow offspring of any stallion that retired following their three-year-old season to race in stakes races, we felt it was necessary to provide a stakes schedule focusing on the older horses,” said Gural.
“The Meadowlands Maturity will provide a starting point for the three-year-olds of 2012 to begin their four-year-old stakes season. Additionally, the TVG Free For All Championship Series is sure to provide harness racing with its best Free For All season ever.”
The TVG Free For All Championship series begins on Saturday May 11 with the elimination for the Arthur Cutler Memorial and a $50,000 Open Pace. There are 63 horses nominated to the trotting and pacing series through April 15, a list that includes all of the best free for all trotters and pacers in the sport. This series has produced noticeable increases in all of the Free For All Events at the Meadowlands this summer. Most notably, the William Haughton Memorial has increased from 22 nominations in 2012 to 40 this year, and the U.S. Pacing Championship has increased from 26 to 41 nominations.
First-race post time for the Championship Meet is set for 7:15 p.m.