East Rutherford, NJ - As the calendar turns to 2017 at The Meadowlands, the reasons are many to be optimistic about the future of harness racing's flagship racetrack. A total of 91 live Standardbred racing dates have been granted for the new calendar year, a slight increase over 2016.
While there's no denying that the defeat of the expanded gaming referendum was a disappointment to those directly and indirectly affected, The Meadowlands Racetrack remains committed to the long term future of horse racing at the facility. Meadowlands management will continue to endeavor to preserve jobs at the track and within the industry and do our very best to help protect green space.
Clearly, generating sufficient revenue to operate at the desired level and keep quality racing on the track is an ongoing problem. The purse account currently stands overpaid by more than $5 million. That issue required considerable contemplation, turning the tide of red ink while continuing to offer owners and horsemen the type of stakes program that is expected from The Meadowlands, done without the advantages of an alternative source of revenue.
Rather than reduce the stakes as was originally proposed, Jeff Gural considered the remarkable optimism demonstrated by the buyers of yearlings at the major sales last fall and realized a vision of how to maintain the stakes program while holding the line on overnight purses.
He proposed that industry stakeholders share in the support of The Meadowlands stakes program by becoming stakes sponsors, contributing to help cover the nearly $5 million in added money for 2017 thus lightening the burden on the purse account.
The response was overwhelmingly positive, with breeders, owners, drivers, trainers and veterinarians all answering the call. As a result, with that support The Meadowlands stakes program will continue virtually intact for 2017. All of the marquee open stakes remain on the schedule with the added money levels maintained largely on par with years past.
An adjustment was made to stimulate nominations to the Mistletoe Shalee for three-year-old filly pacers, which has seen a steady decline in numbers. The payments were reduced by 25% while the added money remains at the same level.
Without the cost of the Breeders Crown this year, The Meadowlands will add the $1.25 million Fall Final Four stakes for two-year-olds to the fall meet in November.
With the final touches currently being added to the informational ads, the entirety of the 2017 stakes information will be available on The Meadowlands website very soon.
It is our hope that horsemen will support both the stakes and overnights with their entries this coming season to enable The Meadowlands to be the most popular betting product in the Standardbred world, as it has been for a generation.
On the horizon is the hope of welcome relief from gaming. The fact is the as the citizens of Manhattan and Northern New Jersey continue their travel to game at Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut locations, Atlantic City continues to decline. As more casinos open in PA and eventually down state New York, voters will recognize the importance of a casino in Northern NJ and the prospect of adding what Meadowlands Chairman Jeff Gural estimates to be $500 million in annual tax revenue to New Jersey coffers.
When that day comes, the forecast for harness racing at The Meadowlands immediately becomes bright and sunny.