While the first three weekends of The Meadowlands meet were impossible to compare to the prior year due to The Breeders Crown being raced at the East Rutherford oval in 2014, this past weekend was the first true indicator in terms of wagering handle. The early returns are very encouraging.
The Friday, December 4th program handled $2,758,743 compared to $2,273,465 in 2014, an increase of $485,278 or 21-percent. On Saturday, December 5th, total handle was $2,722,745, compared to $2,307,791 in 2014, an increase of $414,954, or 18-percent. Combined the weekend saw $900,232 in additional handle compared to 2014, or 19.6 percent. In addition, on-track handle realized an increase of over 10-percent as well.
"The first three weekends of the meet were hard to gauge," said Chairman Jeff Gural. We were comparing to handle figures that centered around the Breeders Crown and our TVG Championships were contested on a different weekend as well. This was our first direct comparison of the meet and it is certainly encouraging."
Full fields remain the key to The Meadowlands success. "We have the bigger track with 10 horses across. That is where we have an edge and we have to capitalize on that. We had 254 betting interests in 26 races, that's nearly 9.8 horses per race, which is where we need to be."
Gural added that coordinating post times has become a focal point of the meet as well. "We hired a consultant who coordinates with other racetracks, thoroughbred and standardbred alike so that our races are not going off at the same time as races that could negatively impact our handle. There are so many tracks out there to keep track of and to have one person being able to focus on just that task throughout the night is a big help to us. We have also developed a schedule with Woodbine where our races are essentially ten minutes apart from one another. We haven't had a single race this meet go off close to Woodbine."
There have been a few other tweaks that seem to be helping as well. "The earlier post certainly hasn't hampered us thus far and it has helped on the back end of the card as we aren't ending too late. In addition, by moving post up, we were able to put a race between our early and late pick four and this weekend shows us that move is working as well. On this weekend in 2014, our early pick four averaged $42,000 and our late pick four came in at $63,000. This year the early pick four averaged $49,000 and the late pick four $72,000, so that move seems to have helped as well."
The on-track attendance is also an area in which Gural's team is making a big push. "We are spending serious money in marketing and promotions to bring people to the facility for racing. We have a presence in midtown Manhattan in the form of a large digital billboard and we have other strategically located billboards throughout the New York City area. We have pushed forward with direct marketing and retaining our current players as well as building our player rewards club, which has grown every month this year. Our on-track promotions are second to none and we have a giveaway every race night. This past Saturday there was a line out the door to get a long sleeve t-shirt. We will continue to push forward in enhancing the on-track experience. We also had a Christmas Party for our VIP guests this past Saturday and all of our skyboxes were filled with groups holding their Christmas parties at The Meadowlands. The facility continues to prove to be marketable to groups for all occasions."
Another interesting observation is that Friday did as well as Saturday. "We have less competition in terms of the overall product available to bettors on Friday and that seems to help us there as well. If we can bring Friday to the same level as Saturday and have some weekends where both nights handle $3 Million, that would be very encouraging."
Gural is looking forward to the next few months. "Hopefully horsemen keep entering their horses like they did this weekend and we can keep putting full and competitive fields on the track for our customers. That is the most important factor for us without question."
Racing returns on Friday, December 11th, with post time at 7:00 P.M.