Driver changes cause chaos at Meadowlands

by Brett Sturman

An inexcusable disregard for the betting public occurred Saturday at the Meadowlands racetrack, where a combination of racetrack management and New Jersey Racing Commission judges failed to take proper action before the start of the Saturday evening card.

With $51,782 wagered into the Pick 5 wager which spans races 1 through 5, the first race of the night was allowed to go off on schedule with no less than seven driver changes still in a status of ‘To Be Announced’ by the track for races in the Pick 5 sequence.

Due to a light snow that fell in the North Jersey region throughout the day and into the night, the track announced at a typical time in the 6 o’clock hour that drivers Andy Miller, Corey Callahan and Pat LaChance would be off all their drives. While the announcement that the three drivers would be off all drives came at a time when such an announcement is typically made, announcements for driver substitutions did not come until much later, presumably due to a shortage of other drivers available at the track.

After 7 p.m. and under 15 minutes until the first race post time, many driver changes were still to be determined. The two driver changes from race 1 had been made, but two out of three changes remained open in race 2. Many driver changes remained outstanding for races 3, 4 and 5 when events were about to spin into further chaos.

With minutes before the first race, the Meadowlands showed on its simulcast feed for the first time that the track’s leading driver Brett Miller would also not be on his drives this night.

On Twitter, the Meadowlands Racetrack account issued a tweet at 7:13 “Brett Miller has just called off all his drives, too; so expect more driver changes to come.” Just three minutes later another tweet was issued; this one with respect to the start of the first race of the night. At 7:16 “It [post time] is going to be delayed – the judges were just heading over to the grandstand now.” And then at 7:22, the race somehow went off on time as scheduled (first race at the Meadowlands always has never gone off earlier than 7:20 this meet despite the scheduled time of 7:15).

The inexplicable action caused bettors with over $50,000 wagered into the Pick 5 to have placed wagers under the pretense of believing they would be receiving one set of drivers while ultimately they would be receiving a far less superior set of drivers; or at the very least not the drivers they had believed they were receiving when making the wager.

Somehow, there was minimal harm done in the first four races. Driver change from Corey Callahan to Greg Merton worked out in race 1 with 3-5 favorite City Pie, and the untimely change from Brett Miller to the suddenly emerging Drew Monti delivered in race 4 as Hillbilly Hanover came through at 2-1.

Race 5 however was a different story. K-lees Shakenbake was rated the 2-1 favorite in the morning line with Brett Miller slated to drive, and was replaced by the judges (again, after the first race of the night had already been run) by driver William Mann. Far from a Meadowlands regular, Mann had only 32 starts at the Meadowlands dating back to last January, in which he won two of them.

By any account this was a disastrous driving change and despite it, K-lees Shakenbake still went off as the 3-2 favorite. Unfortunately, the stone closer sat last on the inside through much of the race, swung three wide from 10th at the top of the stretch and did all he could to close for second. In the same race, two other horses had driver changes as well that weren’t announced until sometime after the completion of the first race of the night. And with all the confusion, as one could imagine, the race was won by 30-1 longshot Stratocaster and capped off a $3,300 payout in the Pick 5.

At press time, it remains unclear as to why post time for the first race wasn’t delayed until all driver changes that were showing as ‘To Be Announced’ were actually made. By virtue of the fact that the Meadowlands didn’t announce publicly that Brett Miller wouldn’t be driving until after 7 p.m., it seems likely that they were unaware themselves and because of that didn’t contact the judges with any advance notice. However, the tweet issued by the Meadowlands at 7:16 indicated that both track management and the judges had been in communication together about the late changes, which makes it even more unacceptable that the races were able to begin with so much ongoing confusion when a simple post delay to sort matters out would have resolved all questions.

What is known, for sure, is wagers were accepted from bettors that were based in some part on drivers who were never to race. There is bound to be enough blame to go around and wherever it falls, those who are entrusted to protect the public and the integrity of the races failed.