by Debbie Little
If the New Jersey Racing Commission approves their dates for 2022, The Meadowlands will once again be racing in September.
“Ninety race days is what we have applied for,” said Meadowlands’ chief operating officer and general manager Jason Settlemoir. “After the Hambletonian, we’ll take [the rest of] August off and come back in the beginning of September and then take October off for the Thoroughbreds. And harness will come back at the beginning of November. But this is pending regulatory approval.”
The September dates are expected to accommodate legs of the Kindergarten Classic Series, as they did this year, as well as the recently announced “New Jersey Classics” for Garden State sired 2- and 3-year-old males and females of both gaits.
In a September press release, Meadowlands’ president and chief executive officer Jeff Gural shared thoughts about the new races.
“We believe that with the New Jersey Sires Stakes (NJSS) racing for purses increased by 20 per cent next year, including these new races will allow trainers to race for large purses over fewer races in a shorter span of time in New Jersey and not have to endure the time and expense of traveling,” said Gural. “The truth is there are so many races for good money now starting in July that the toll is becoming too great on the 2-year-olds for them to last until October and November for Red Mile Grand Circuit, Breeders Crown and the Fall Final Four.”
Mark Ford, president of the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey (SBOANJ), works closely with The Meadowlands throughout the year and appreciates the efforts put forth by everyone associated with the track to make the racing good for the horsemen.
“It’s not us and them, it’s we,” said Ford. “We’re all trying to work together to make it better for everybody. I’ll take my hat off to Nick Salvi and Jason [Settlemoir] and the bunch that get it all put together. They’re trying to lengthen the calendar here in New Jersey to make it different and hopefully, better. If you have a New Jersey bred, you could stay in New Jersey the whole season and not have to move, per se. There’s more of an opportunity, there’s more money.”
Increased purses and new races can certainly be enticing to owners who are looking to cash in with their sales purchases.
“It is something where, as a group, we would be more likely to consider New Jersey breds than if they weren’t adding those races,” said owner Mark Weaver. “It sounds like it would probably clash with Lexington, which I think was probably their goal to go heads up with Lexington with their increased purses. It’s certainly something that would make New Jersey a great option, as is Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky. I definitely agree it’s something New Jersey kind of needed to do and I would think it would help with their yearling prices for sure.”
Nifty Norman, who trains NJSS 2-year-old trotting filly champ Venerable, thinks more money and new stakes races are already having an effect.
“For example, a lot of people are going out of their way to buy a Lazarus just to be involved in the New Jersey thing, so I think that’s a good sign,” said Norman.
Venerable’s part-owner David McDuffee thinks these changes have New Jersey heading in the right direction.
“I think it’s interesting because there’s a lot of good sire stakes programs around the country,” said McDuffee. “Kentucky, obviously, has jumped to the head of the class, I think. And New York has always had a fairly good program, not always, but for the last 10 years or more. And New Jersey’s program was pretty weak and it was really very difficult sometimes to justify spending a lot of extra money for a Jersey bred one. But I think now that they’re catching up and they’re doing a pretty good job things are more equal in that regard. I definitely think it’s a great thing.”
The fifth leg of the Kindergarten Classic Series at The Meadowlands is Saturday (Nov. 6) with the Finals next weekend on Saturday, Nov. 13.