The Meadowlands’ decision to cancel Thursday’s card was due in part to a lack of entries for the New Jersey Classic Series which is having some growing pains early in its tenure.
by Debbie Little
When The Meadowlands had to cancel racing on Thursday (Sept. 8) due in part to a lack of entries for the New Jersey Classic Series (NJCS), the future of this new event could have been called into question.
“We simply didn’t get the numbers we anticipated for the NJCS 2-year-old elimination races,” said Meadowlands chief operating officer/general manager Jason Settlemoir. “We added the two Thursdays (Sept. 1 and 8) to accommodate those stakes and still get the overnight horses raced. Clearly, we were stretched last week to fill three cards and with today’s box, the Friday and Saturday cards were going to be very thin.”
But as anyone who’s read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” knows, don’t panic.
New things can take time to gain traction and it’s hard to judge success or failure off one attempt.
The NJCS is split into an “A” and “B” division and it’s that top “A” level for 2-year-old trotting and pacing fillies that drew fewer entries than anticipated.
With no eliminations necessary, the five filly trotters and six filly pacers will move on to their Sept. 16 finals estimated at $300,000 and $150,000, respectively.
With a total of 36 pacing fillies having made the April 15 $400 sustaining payment and 110 trotting fillies making their $700 sustaining payment on that same date, it’s understandable that a well-supported box would not be a reach. But with the “A” and “B” levels combined, only 17 pacers and 23 trotters actually dropped in.
But The Meadowlands isn’t alone when it comes to short fields. The Red Mile, currently hosting a series of their own, has also seen reduced field sizes in some categories as well.
“A lot of the $80,000 races, they’re like Pebble Beach’s races, they’ve got five horses and it’s the same with the 2-year-old pacing fillies,” said trainer Noel Daley.
Pebble Beach has been staying down in Kentucky and racing in the Kentucky Championship Series for 3-year-old colt pacers, the top level of Kentucky’s three-tiered system comprised of four legs and a $400,000 final.
In fact, 12 freshman trotting fillies that were eligible to the race in the NJCS raced, instead, in Kentucky in the fourth leg of their series. Two of those competed in that top-tier equivalent to the NJCS “A” division, but since only four dropped in, it was raced as a non-bettor before the card.
There was only one NJCS eligible freshman pacing filly that competed in Kentucky this week, the “A” division Daley-trained Devilish Dreams.
“I just had her down there because I wasn’t beating Linda [Toscano’s Ucandoit Blue Chip] here [in New Jersey], so I just thought I’d take a shot,” said Daley. “If we weren’t already committed to being there for other horses, I would not have taken her out there, because it costs you a fortune.
“I rented a house so I haven’t had to deal with hotel rooms, but it’s not a cheap operation to be there.”
More than one horseman has said that Kentucky’s just got crazy money there right now, so it’s no surprise that several Jersey-based trainers would take a shot, much in the way many professional golfers have joined the extremely lucrative LIV Golf Tour.
“I love being in Kentucky, but for many years it’s been a losing proposition for what you can bill out and what it costs you to be there,” said Daley.
2022 Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks winning trainer Jim Campbell can’t speak to why some would choose to race in Kentucky over New Jersey, but he’s very clear on what works for him.
“My opinion is I choose New Jersey,” said Campbell. “The less travel I have to do for horses and people the better off it is, but everybody has their own different opinion of what they want to do so I can’t really answer for other people. But for me, if the money’s there in New Jersey and the horse is ready, able and willing, then I’m staying in New Jersey.
“We can stay right on our home base and race at The Meadowlands. You’re racing on one of the best tracks in the country and not having to travel is the biggest reason of all.”
Oaks champ Fashion Schooner is competing tonight (Sept. 9) in the $275,000 NJCS “A” level final for 3-year-old trotting fillies.
“I think for the Jersey Classic, for it to be in September the way it is, I think the elimination and the final is ideal because we’re a month-and-a-half away from the Breeders Crown, so you don’t want to be throwing extra starts that you don’t want to throw into a horse,” said Campbell. “I hope these races continue and they can take off because I’m a Jersey guy and if I can stay here and race for this kind of money, then that’s a bonus.”