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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Meadowlands Fans Disappearing

- From time to time, I bring my camera to a track, and come back and post pictures showing how empty it was. So yeah, here I go again.

I'd really prefer to post pictures like this one here. But this is reality, and such is the state of the game these days. It had been awhile since I went to the Meadowlands; I think that this was my last visit, nearly two years ago; man, time flies. But that's not a long time in the scheme of things, and I was really struck at how empty it was compared to how I last remembered it. (Which was, of course, already far less crowded than in the past.) Since my last visit, phone account wagering, the advent of OTB in the state, the availability of the races on TVG and other ADW's, and the usual attrition rate have no doubt had profound effect.

I'd always marveled at the fact that the Meadowlands had kept the entire plant open despite the dwindling crowds; but that is no longer the case, with half of the second floor now closed, and protected behind those increasingly familiar white barricades with the lattice patterns.

Now, of course, it was a wintry Wednesday night, and only an idiot or a degenerate would make his way to the Meadowlands on such an evening when he/she could wager from the comfort of home. And the photos were taken upstairs in the clubhouse; while there was a somewhat more normal looking gathering on the first floor. Still, the announced attendance was just 2,806, and I don't know how or if they include those there for afternoon simulcasting. And I'd never seen it nearly like this.

That's the third floor clubhouse area which used to be promoted as a sports bar. It was pretty lively on most nights, and I'd be lucky to be able to nab one of those tables; but no more. I counted 17 people in the area, including the two guys doing the simulcast show. It was eerie, and added to the sense of doom created by the looming purse cuts that are promised should a new subsidy program not be agreed to. And there's no short-term relief from slots on the horizon.

I generally stay neutral in the slots debates, at least as concerning their own merits, separate from the save-the-tracks standpoint, and as a means for state governments to raise revenues. I don't dismiss lightly the arguments against them, and greatly prefer there were other ways of balancing budgets. But we're not hearing that usual debate in New Jersey about things like the ill effects on society and preying on those least able to afford it. This is simply a case of the state's casino industry using their political clout to prevent competition, period. In this particular case, the identity of the bad guy is plainly clear. Atlantic City's business model was based largely on its regional monopoly on casino gambling. Now, even as that dominance has become obsolete, the casinos are seeking, through bullying and intimidation, to hang on to a piece of what's left (a strategy that hasn't worked out too well for the music industry by the way). The competition from surrounding states has engulfed Atlantic City and will continue to do so as more slots come on line in Philly and, one of these days, at Aqueduct and in Maryland. The contention that another 1,000 VLT machines in East Rutherford would have a material effect is doubtful at very best.

They were promoting some award the track got for being the "best simulcast facility of 2007," but it's been that for some time as far as I'm concerned. The Meadowlands has long been awesome for simulcasting, not to mention the live product, with an ample wagering menu, hundreds of monitors, attentive customer service, and no betting lines, even years ago. The plant is as immaculate as ever now after nearly 30 years, as maybe you can make out from the photos. I've always found it to be comfortable and accommodating, both inside, and out in the spacious trackside park area during the summer.

The Meadowlands would be a perfect place for slots if there's such a thing - there's plenty of room, both in the building and on the park grounds. But since that's unlikely, a new subsidy agreement funded largely by the casinos only seems fair. Here's hoping that Governor Corzine sees fit to keep his word and shepherd it through before any further damage is done.

- On the track, I fell just two noses short of hitting the 7th race triple when Justcallmerosie fell just short at odds of 8-1. With the favorite and second choice on top, the triple paid over $80, so if I had won......(why do we go through pointless exercises like that?) I also had the winner of the 7th at Balmoral on top, but failed to hit the exacta. Other than that, I wasn't too close, but it was nice to get out. And besides, a race that I didn't even bet made the trip totally worthwhile.

The sixth was a maiden pace for three-year olds, and Rudy Rednose was a first-time starter. Gotta be a hunch bet in there somewhere, eh? This pacer is trained by George Teague Jr., and was driven by Brian Sears. With my limited knowledge of harness racing current events, I'd guess that's about equivalent to Mott/Desormeaux or so, yes? Rudy Rednose, 7-2 in the morning line, was the clear betting favorite off a single qualifier. I was out in the cold for the post parade, and the gelded son of Red River Hanover looked fantastic on the track. I think I'm actually better picking out harness horses from their warm-ups than I am with thoroughbreds - which isn't really saying much. I find it easier. You actually have a chance to see the horse in something approaching full stride; and if you're paying attention, you also get a preview during between-race warm-ups about 90 minutes or so before the horses race.

Rudy Rednose went off at 8-5, but was 9th after a half mile; he started to inch up a bit on the outside, but around the turn, he was still four deep in a cover flow that wasn't going anywhere. It wasn't until after turning for home that Sears tipped him out, tapped the sulky with his whip a couple of times, and Rudy Rednose just exploded past the field with absolute ease in a final quarter of 27 seconds (that's good). It's always exciting to catch an impressive debut like that no matter what the breed. So, while I haven't yet had anything even approaching a Derby moment as of yet, if Walter can find me 100-1 on Rudy Rednose in the Meadowlands Pace, I'd certainly get some action down on that!


Anonymous said...

Hey Alan - your photography skills are quite honed with that thing now. You really captured the long empty spaces. You gotta go on the weekend to see crowds there now. The 2,800 figure includes both afternoon and evening attendance, and even with the roped off areas the place is like Belmont, it always seems empty.

On the weekdays, you can say the same thing now about the Meadowlands that they have been saying about Freehold for years: The same thousand people show up every day.

Sunny Jim

Anonymous said...

Hi Alan - thanks for the enjoyable writing and photos. The democrats in NJ control the legislature and Corzine is a true socialist. The casino's are tired of being held up by polititians to pay for horse racing. However - they won't relinquish their hold on "slot machines" in the Garden State. They claim it will hurt business while at the same time the casinos open slot places across the river in Philadelphia. The casino's own several high powered polititians. It will be interesting to see if they continue to subsidize the racing industry. If they don't it will be hard times for horse racing in NJ. Thanks again.

Teresa said...

I can't believe that after living here for ten years I've been to the Meadowlands once. You inspire me to make another trip.

Anonymous said...

I have a family member that trained/owned standardbreds and it is ashame what has gone on at the Big M. I loved Friday night drives up to watch the racing. The atmosphere made it all that more appealing to me. That seems to be the same story at most places thought, with the growing account wagering access and good coverage on TV.

I am glad to hear that they have kept up with the place, I've been trying to drag my girlfriend up there one night and don't want to take her to a dump.

The AC casino's I believe claim to have had a losing year last year. It was the first ever from what I can remember ( I haven't followed ths issue too closely ). The Tropicana was forced to shut down earlier this year or late last and they blamed the conditions that brought the shut down upon them on the poor year they had. They had to layoff so many employees that they couldn't care for the place properly.

Anonymous said...

I love the Big M. It is a great facility. I used to go for the trotters but I could not stand the product anymore. Great place for simulcasting. My biggest NYRA scores have been at the Big M.

Bruno takes a shot from a now former NYRA Board member and a constituant.

Wait Resigns NYRA Board
February 1, 2008 at 11:31 am by James M. Odato
Charles Wait’s news release on his resignation from the New York Racing Association Board says he thinks Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno is holding up a franchise deal NYRA worked out with Gov. Eliot Spitzer, threatening racing and the economy of Saratoga Springs.

Anonymous said...

I once listened to a prominent New Jersey trainer recount stories about the Meadowlands thoroughbred meet when it first opened and was truly amazed. The place was jammed with people, and not just degenerate bettors! Owners, trainers, celebrities...all over the couldn't get a seat. On Friday and Saturday nights especially, but also during the week. Not to mention the riders and the racing. For about 10 years, he said, it was an amazing meet and an amazing nightly event.

So very sad indeed.

Anonymous said...

Those pictures are so sad.
I was there opening day 1976 and it was impossible to bet. I still have the program somewhere. To see it so empty reminds me of Belmont on weekdays or non big days.

By the way, nice comeback by the Broadway Blues for the 5-3 score.