Early Meadowlands memories

With the original grandstand now being demolished, we look back to the very beginning of The Big M.

by Bob Heyden

It’s coming down folks. The original grandstand building we knew as the Meadowlands is being demolished. It operated from 1976 through 2011 and then until the new building came up across the way. Here’s 20 things that happened the first four nights of racing at The Meadowlands in September 1976 in the first 40 races:

1. Quick Baron won for Ray Remmen and paid $16.80. Remmen had four winners in the first four nights and all were double digit returns: Birdies Duster $15.40, Goyo $11.00, Bewitched Dandy $12.20.

2. Jim Larente and Walter Marks shared the driving lead after night one with two wins each.

3. Here are the first four night’s attendances and handles (Note the drop-off from night one to night two-and then the recovery):

Sept. 1 (Wednesday) — 42,144, $2,446,951

Sept. 2 (Thursday) — 10,694, $958,274

Sept. 3 (Friday) — 23,466, $1,768,165

Sept. 4 (Saturday) — 31,608, $1,893,745

4. These are the four most famous horses not to get a check the first four nights: Tarport Hap (6th), Quick Work (8th), Sandra Lil (7th) and P A Carlos (10th).

5. Lots of drivers got into the winner’s circle that first week. On the first night, eight drivers won. On the second night, nine drivers won (Buddy Gilmour won twice). On the third night, nine drivers won (Jim Doherty won twice). On the fourth night, 10 different drivers won a race.

6. The first disqualification? Don Pierce and Split Decision from 2nd to 10th in the finale on night two.

7. Hanover Shore Farms sired the first three winners: Baron Hanover, Bret Hanover and Thorpe Hanover.

8. Six Hall Of Famers won that first week: Remmen, John Simpson, William Haughton, Jim Doherty, Buddy Gilmour and Bob Farrington.

9. No driver who won on night one also won on night two

10. The 1976 Horse of the Year Keystone Ore did not race at the Meadowlands in 1976. The only time a HOY has not competed that same year at The Meadowlands.

11. Who had the most drives on opening night? Lew Williams with seven.

12. Overtrick was the leading sire on opening night with three winners: Fashion Trick (the first female to win at The Big M and later the dam of Falcon Seelster), Andy Lobell and Coaches Dream.

13. The Daily Double (races 1 and 2 only) averaged $525 for the first four nights: $72.00, $1,691.80, $268.40 and $72.10.

14. Twenty three of the first 40 races contested returned a double digit price. Eighteen races were claimers. JoAnn Looney and Debbie Cassaday were the first two female drivers.

15. A 1:55.3 mile by Rambling Willie was the track standard set in the premier on opening night. It would be 24 days until the very first ever 1:55 mile was recorded in New Jersey by Young Quinn.

16. The busiest Meadowlands horse of the 1970s (most starts) was second in the opener — Napal Dew for Greg Wright, Sr.

17. Greg Wright’s barn led all four years in the 1970s at the Meadowlands. His first win was with Coaches Dream ($28.40).

18. Oddly, Ted Wing did not win in the first 40 races. He almost was the first repeat leading driver in 1978 winning the title just one back in 1977 of Benny The Whip Webster.

19. Oil Burner did win at the Meadowlands, but on the Labor Day card that came on day five in The Oliver Wendell Holmes. He was, along with Tarport Hap and Whata Baron, the three or four biggest names to race at The Meadowlands in their first three seasons.

20. In year one there was no John Campbell and no Bill O’Donnell. Campbell would make it to New Jersey in 1978 and won 23 races. O’Donnell’s feet went into the water first in 1979. Together they won every Meadowlands driving title in the 1980s (Campbell with 6, O’Donnell with 4).