Gural's Plan For "New Meadowlands"

Published: August 7, 2011 06:09 pm EDT

Jeff Gural, the featured speaker on day three of the World Trotting Conference, outlined plans for the “New Meadowlands.” It was a much-anticipated speech

; in the weeks and months leading up to the Conference the delegates representing 17 countries had wondered whether the 2011 Hambletonian was going to be raced at the Meadowlands -- or whether there would even be a Meadowlands by the time they arrived in America.

Gural, well before the Conference opened, completed his arrangements with the State of New Jersey to take control of the troubled racing facility and begin his plans for what he hopes will be a renaissance for the track.

“The Meadowlands is obsolete,” said Gural. “It was built for a different era and it’s too big now for the crowds it draws. Nobody wants to go to an empty restaurant.”

He plans to dismantle the track that opened in 1976 and replace it with an ultra-modern facility to be erected on what is now the backstretch. The idea will be to offer racing in a “right-sized” facility designed with substantial amounts of outdoor seating for harness racing, concerts and other entertainment. The detailed drawings presented to the delegates reveals a facility that is much different than the one that now exists.

Gural, who has had success entertaining crowds at Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs, admitted that he’s going to have to change his thinking a bit when the Meadowlands changes.

“The fans have come to Tioga, but I haven’t been able to get them to bet -- and I blame myself. We don’t draw the people my age who handicap and bet. We didn’t make a good enough effort to teach them how to bet.”

People like betting on star power, and Gural announced that he’s going to make horses sired by four-year-olds not eligible to the Meadowlands’ major stakes, including the Meadowlands Pace, the W.N. Reynolds Memorial, and John Simpson Sr. Stakes, which will move to the New Big M from other tracks.

By discouraging horses from retiring at three, Gural believes his efforts "will work" in generating renewed interest in racing's stars.

"Anybody in the entertainment business knows you need stars," said Gural. "But the breeders have destroyed the ability to see our stars by retiring our very best horses at their prime.

"Starting with the foals of 2013, if the sire is four years old and doesn't meet certain requirements related to an injury, their foals won't be eligible to race in stakes at Tioga, Vernon or The Meadowlands.

"Because horsemen in slot states don't want stakes, we've picked up many. We just picked up the Reynolds from Pennsylvania. We've taken the Cane Pace this year and will probably keep it for a few years," explained Gural. "If a horse isn't eligible to any of these races, including all the major stakes at The Meadowlands, I believe this will force people with a good three-year-old to race him at four."

Gural said he has asked the Hambletonian Society, Woodbine Entertainment Group, and The Red Mile to join him this year in making horses sired by four-year-olds ineligible, but up to this point he said they've been mostly reluctant.

"At least it’s being talked about in the industry,” he said.

"I know for sure this will work, and if we were to get another Somebeachsomewhere or Muscle Hill, we'll be able to pack the place when they race at four."

Gural also discussed the racing style at The Meadowlands.

"I get an enormous a amount of complaints about how the racing is conducted becuase you have a small driver's colony. You don't have the cut throat type of racing that you saw at the driver's championship.

"Tim Tetrick suggested that I increase the banking on the track, and I plan to do that," he added. "It used to be banked, but years ago to save money they eliminated it. I'll also remind the drivers that we expect more competitive racing."

Gural added that he plans to divide the racing into a regular meet and a championship meet.

It’s obvious that with his plans for the New Meadowlands that Gural has become the sport’s biggest gambler: “In truth, this is a bet on getting slot machines one day,” he said, matter-of-factly. "This will either be a huge success or a huge failure, but I believe we'll get slots."

Gural said the goal is to open by the Kentucky Derby in 2013.

Other speakers on Sunday included the USTA’s chief executive, Mike Tanner, who talked about the Association’s Back to the Track promotion and the Strategic Wagering Program; Kelly Spencer, chief marketing officer at Grand River Raceway; Sweden’s Ulf Hörnberg, who outlined a highly successful program that brought horse ownership to thousands of individuals; and Alla Polzunova, head of the Russian Trotting Federation, who made a presentation of historic Orlov Trotter artwork to Gail Cunard, director of the Trotting Horse Museum and Hall of Fame.

Peter Truzla, Technical Advisor of the European Trotting Union, also reported this morning on the conduct of the 25th World Driving Championship.

Truzla said that the group was very nice, the horses were good, and in terms of judging, it was a fair competition.

"It was a good environment at the tracks and we were happy with the crowds of people lining up to get autographs," he said. "It was a great accomplishment to have Jody Jamieson win his second Championship."

However, Truzla reported that some drivers were disappointed with the allocation of horses to drivers.

"The horses were chosen randomly and some drivers would have hoped it was done differently," said Truzla, noting that four drivers weren't able to win any races. "For future competitions we suggest classifying the horses. Like in the European contests, perhaps the best five horses in each race and the bottom five horses can be divided up -- two for each driver."

The delegates will turn their attention tomorrow to topics related to equine elfare and then make a visit to the Standardbred Retirement Foundation and Perretti Farms.

(With files from USTA)



In addition to my previous questions,I have another one.Let's say that Mr Gural will force the likes of Muscle Hill,Donato Hanover and Deweycheatumnhowe,to race at four,whether they are physically or mentally fit, to try to keep the stars on the track. It may work on a single horse here and there,but most likely not.No four year old against,racing against San Pail and Arch Madness,will most likely not dominate, just participate.When they have a chance to actually be stars again,at age five, they will retire anyway as long as their reputation haven't been too much tarnished by being beat up by the older war horses.I also wonder who is going to decide on the "injury" clause, on each horse?Everybody that actually trained horses knows how many different type of "injuries" a horse can have.Is overall wear and tear,reason enough not to race?Is x-rays showing severe changes in knees enough reason not to race?Most horses have x-ray changes after two years on our tracks.How will you evaluate mentally worn horses,that just don't wan't to race at the same level anymore(Or any level)?This is trouble my friends.My new question is regarding the horses just below the "Muscle Hills":They may have done just enough to stand stud anywhere in NA,but at a smaller farm and at a smaller fee,but have no shot of becoming a star on the track.They will also be forced to race,of course:To what benefit?

I have never seen anything good come out of forcing anything and as I think more and more about this,it is a poor idea! I am all for keeping the stars on the track,but that has to come thru programs that stimulate owners/trainers to continue to race.That way,they can determine whether their horse is in shape to be a factor in the FFA's and if it makes sense to risk their horse and his reputation.Take a small portion from the regular overnight purses and structure races for four year olds,so it makes sense to keep racing great colts AND fillies.

This is an industry that has always faught change and has never been able to see past it's own nose. 8.3 million bet Saturday at the Big M and 1 million bet on the Hambletonian race alone and the attendance was 25354.

Mr Gural's plan is a step in the right direction and if we can keep the stars racing and attracting the crowds then the industry will rejuvenate itself. However the industry as a whole needs to "buy in" to this plan but as usual we see reluctance to change which has been it's downfall all along.

I am all for Jeff Gural's proposal though Perry Soderberg is correct in asking about the fillies; shouldn't they be forced to race through four as well?

Yes, horses may avoid the Meadowlands, Vernon, and Tioga Downs because of the rule. My question is this? Where are they going to have those many opportunities to race for big money other than WEG? Let's see on the pacing side the Adios ($500,000), the Battle of the Brandywine ($500,000)and the Art Rooney ($400,000 est.). Oh, people avoid Yonkers like the plague and the Battle of the Brandywine field is determined by the highest money earners, meaning horses that will race at the Meadowlands, Tioga and Vernon Downs.

I would tweak the proposal. I don't understand why we can't breed like they do in Europe. I would suggest horses bred by four year olds that do race a certain number of starts as well would be eligible.

Look who is on the board of the Hambletonian Society; that tells you why they have been resistent. A good number of these people would be cutting their own nose off if they went along with Jeff Gural's proposal.

In reply to by Pacingguy

While I applaud Gurals efforts to try and improve the sport, his idea that he has presented is rediculous. How can one ask an owner or group of owners to throw away millions of dollars in stud fees to race their top horses at 4? Anybody in this buisiness knows that the toughest jump a horse has to make is from their 3 year old season to their 4 year old season.

For instance, take a look at Western Silk and One More Laugh (gelding) and the seasons they have had this year to date after winning some very big stakes last year. One More Laugh was beaten by a horse that was claimed for 30 grand a few weeks ago(Western Gambler) yesterday at Chester and he won the Meadowlands Pace last year and was a major player the whole year. If he was a stud do you think it would have been in the owners best interests to bring him back and race him this year? They would have diminished his value by racing him if in fact he was a a stud and thats 100% certain. Western Silk a very nice mare in her own right has struggled against the older mares this year and her earnings will not be anywhere near the same as they were last year, but if she only raced agaionst 4 year old mares she would be one of the tops in her class again.

My suggestion would be to offer races for only 4 year olds (one for mares and one for the boys) their own stakes series at a variety of the big tracks and have purses that will give the owners of a top class horses the chance for their horse to earn the type of money they can earn as 3 year olds. Then and only then would an owner of a top 3 year old be eniticed to want to come back and race as a 4 year old. Why not have a series of 10 races for purses of $100,000 a division at different tracks and have a final, for the top point earners and the end of the year that goes for a million, strictly for 4 year olds? That would entice many people to race a 4 year old and people would be able to follow the series and their favourite horses throughout the year.

The 5 year old and older horses and mares would have their own divisions and could have the same series and the finals could all be held on the same night.

8 million dollars in purses does it and the problem would be solved!!

Gary Blackburn

Is Jeff Gural right this time?
Jeff Gural has done more for harness racing than most people and if The New Meadowlands is a success, he may have saved harness racing and given our sport a true chance to survive. I have therefor a lot of faith in Mr Gural and most everything that he has done so far is great and I am optimistic that most of his ideas will turn out to be a success in the future as well.
But, I am genuinely concerned about his idea to force great colts to race on after the age of three, instead of retiring them to stud.

First, I would like to say that I completely agree with the idea that we should find a way to keep successful profiles on the track. I come from Europe, where they keep racing the stars as long as they are competitive and at times they do both(Racing and Breeding). So why am I worried about this? Of course, I have not seen the final suggested scenario and exactly what will be the rule. This is also why I am writing this blog, to get some answers.

These are the questions I have:
1.Will this only apply to colts? Can the owners of See You At Peelers(Who have single handed achieved such success that NY Times has now written about our sport,which they never do) retire her and other high profile fillies after the age of 3 and breed them at 3? Shouldn’t we then force the fillies to race on as well?. I am sure that Jimmy Takter would love to race See You At Peelers for years, if she is healthy, so she is now only used as an example. I have been involved with fillies like Passionate Glide, Costa Rica, Pampered Princess, Cabrini Hanover, Solveig and many others. Should only the owners of the colts be forced by this rule?
2.Donato Hanover, Deweycheatumnhowe and Muscle Hill where all fantastic horses that raced awesome for two seasons. Most horses will never have one season like they had two. Many horses can not last for two seasons, the way we race them nowadays. Let’s say that Muscle Hill(or any of the other two), was a bit worn, both mentally and physically after they have been in every dance at 2 and 3, and just come back as a decent horse at 4...Maybe aged monsters like Arch Madness or San Pail would beat them good every time they put their foot on the track at 4...and make them look like average horses. Do you mean to tell me that the owners of these horses, would/should/could accept that the syndication for millions that could have been done at three, is no longer possible? Their now average racehorse(with 2&3 credentials), may be worth a third or less of what he was at three...
3.I have seen talks about that horses could get syndicated at three if he has an injury....who will determine the severity of the injury? Will the guideline be that the horse should have a chance to race at the same level as before? Or should it be that he will make it as any type of race horse? Most(all?) racehorses have x-ray changes after two tough grand circuit seasons. We have had veterinarians that have determined that several of our horses would never race again after seeing the x-rays, so we sold them as stallion prospects. One raced in The Hambo later on and one is now one of this countries better FFA trotters.. So who is the person that will determine what horses can get syndicated and who will be forced to race? This is like a match in heaven for creating problems and controversy..

These are a couple of concerns that I have, but since I also feel that we should have a chance to see our stars continue on, I have some ideas that I think is better:
No.1 is to create series and stakes for 4 year olds! It is unique that four year olds dominate against older horses. It is unique that they race very competitive against older horses and in addition, hold up soundness wise and also develop. If there where four year old racing, for good money, the owners/trainers of the top horses would seriously consider to continue race on with their stars, providing that they feel that the horses are up to it and in good health. It would give these horses a chance to develop in to the aged stars that we are looking for. In Europe, most 4 year olds are racing against 4 year olds. They even have series and races for 5 year olds.

I look forward to some thoughts about this, it is a very important subject. I am afraid that it could seriously backfire, like most things that are being done by force. I might change my mind, if things are explained and done in a different way, since I would also like to see more profiles and stars being kept on the track. But I can not see how this can be done by force...What if horses like Donato Hanover, Deweycheatumnhowe and Muscle Hill would have raced as mediocre 4 year olds, being beat up by “Arch Madness” or someone else like him. Who would have liked to buy shares in them and breed to them then?

I actually like the idea of having our stars race at four and five and six....Why not, its what brings the people out.... I understand why they retired Somebeachsomewhere to stud but can u imagine the crowds he would have produced the last couple of years???!!!!! Why cant we race our stars and stand them stud as well at the same time? If I ever have another horse worth standing at sire, I will be racing him at four and standing him stud at the same time and racing him at five and standing him at the same time and so on.... I understand the pros and cons to that but no one person, horse, track or company is bigger than our industry and we all need to help it thrive.

As far as Peter Truzla, and the draw of horses, I believe he is 100% correct. There was a clear fairness issue. Those drivers were mostly on horses that were written into the class or just poor horses in general. I think every driver had those type of horses but a few of the drivers simply had more. I also believe that the best way to conduct any drivers challenge or championship is to have the horses draw and then assign post positions to the drivers for the first race. The next race each driver moves out one post position and that continues until the last race of the competition. This has been employed by Ian Fleming at Clinton for years, and was the way Standardbred Canada conducted the regional and National championships. Although its not a perfect solution to this problem, at least it provides some structure to a competition that relies so much on the horse and post....

In reply to by Jody Jamieson

In a previous post I gave a format that creates the fairest chance in a driver competition but, the ideas I put forth were obviously ignored at that time. They will slowly be added by these discussions and will eventually implemented as some one elses ingenious Idea. Check out past discussions on Driving comps. for the format, or not.

I agree with Mr. Kaufman. Good horses will race where the money is. If they are not eligible at the Meadowlands, they will go somewhere else. Outstanding stallions will still retire at three yrs. old because firstly, there is less chance of injury in the breeding shed as opposed to the race track but more importantly, it is financially more feasible to the owners. Mr. Gural would be cutting off his nose to spite his face and relegate the Meadowlands to a mediocre class of racing should he choose to instigate the 4 yr. old eligibility rule.

Actually, Mr. Gural, making horses sired by four year olds and younger not eligible to the big stakes races is a huge mistake. You would be denying potential stars the opportunity to race for big purses, as we know the Meadowlands has lots of high-quality stakes races for babies and 3 year olds. That decision would not force horses to race longer, it would instead drive them to other tracks which would thrive and have higher purses for those better horses.

Say we have HORSE X. If HORSE X cannot race in the big races at the Meadowlands, Vernon and Tioga, it would race at other tracks instead, such as Pocono, Yonkers, and the WEG circuit. The Meadowlands would be in even deeper water and would not draw huge crowds. Instead, it would draw even smaller crowds.

I can see why WEG, the Hambletonian Society and the Red Mile are so reluctant, because it is a huge mistake.

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