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Thursday, April 14, 2005

A Night at the Races. Kind of.

- I was at the Meadowlands with a friend last night. He’s not quite a newbie; he lives in New Jersey and has met me there a few times, usually about once a year. So I guess that makes him a fewbie. He’s a Rangers games buddy, so actually, we’ve met there a bit more frequently this year, I guess twice. At least I don’t have to explain win/place/show or exacta to him. But still, he’s dependent on me for all betting decisions as if I actually really know what I’m doing, especially when it comes to the live harness racing. At the same time, we catch up on conversation and recent events, so it’s not like I can even concentrate the way I would if I was alone or with fellow degenerates. And of course, all night, I have to hear: “C’MON, WHO DO YOU LIKE, DON’T WE HAVE TO BET? THERE’S ONLY 8 MINUTES TO POST!”

I think that’s the most difficult thing for new or occasional track goers to accept and comprehend – the fact that many of us regulars make most of our bets in the last couple of minutes before post time. 8 minutes to post? In that amount of time, when I can concentrate, I can move handicapping mountains and have epiphanies that can last a horseplayer’s lifetime.

So last night was more of a social occasion and doesn’t count against my year-to-date betting statistics, which I don’t keep anyway, even though any professional would tell you that you must keep detailed records. I remember reading one book, I think it was Marc Cramer’s delightful little novelette Scared Money, in which I was advised to even keep track of where I was, or whether I was sitting or standing throughout the decision-making process for each race. Perhaps I think better standing on my feet?

So, we had, or I guess I should say, I had no winners last night, though my friend could not appreciate the little triumphs I enjoyed along the way – the horse who was left at the gate but rallied for third; the races skipped because I deemed them unplayable that resulted in incomprehensible results; or the favorite in the 6th at Penn National, Star of Florida, who I correctly surmised would bounce based on his lifetime best Beyer in his last, followed by the slowest published workout I’ve ever seen – a half mile in :57 3/5 seconds! I mean, the $15,000’s claiming pacers at the Meadowlands go faster than that! All my friend saw was no winners, so I suck, period.

- Meanwhile, the football Giants announced an agreement to build a brand new football stadium for themselves there, replacing the 29-year old one that is now “outdated,” meaning not enough luxury boxes. As a charter season ticket holder for the Jets, I can tell you that there is nothing wrong with that stadium – the sightlines are unsurpassed and the facilities more than sufficient. With the Jets hoping to move to Manhattan, the Devils to Newark, and the Nets to Brooklyn, the Giants will be left alone with the horses if all three succeed.

But you’ll not hear talk of a new racetrack. There’s no need for one,really, at least from a fan’s standpoint. Racetracks don’t need luxury boxes; they need to be like the Meadowlands. The facility is spacious, clean, and in terms of the number of betting windows, TV screens, field size, simulcasting selection, seating and teletheatres, is incomparable. Whereas other tracks in the area have dwindled in size along with the crowds – Aqueduct and Belmont have large sections of the grandstand that have long been closed down, part of the former being preserved for the eventual slots parlor that will be built there – thereby crowding the smaller audiences into smaller spaces, the Meadowlands has somehow been able to maintain just about its original form. All three floors are fully open on live racing days and nights, as well as outdoor betting windows during the summer, and one can walk up to a machine and most teller windows and make a bet at any time, even as the pacers are rolling down the stretch behind the starting gate. Sometimes, the non-smoking second floor feels more like a vast, mostly empty lobby of an office building or of Grand Central Station at 10 PM than a racetrack. It almost feels like my little private betting venue sometimes, especially during the thoroughbred meet, which draws even less than the harness one.

Still, they consistently outdraw the downstate NYRA tracks, though I’m not sure if the announced attendance figures include everyone who walks in for the simulcasting that goes on from first post at Philadelphia through, some nights, racing from Australia and Hong Kong. Nevertheless, this past Saturday, the announced crowd was just a few hundred less than the one at the Wood Memorial.