The Meadows’ cross-breed Pick-4 is a creative concept

by Brett Sturman

Beginning Friday (July 14), Hollywood Casino at The Meadows will offer a multi-leg Pick-4 wager that combines legs from its track along with its sister thoroughbred track, Hollywood Casino at Penn National. Both Pennsylvania-based tracks are owned by PENN Entertainment.

After some research to see logistically what was even possible around the wager, the concept came together through discussions between Scott Lishia and Eric Johnston, respectively the directors of racing at The Meadows and at Penn National. With both tracks offering early evening post times in the summer, there was alignment between the tracks.

One of the main features of the wager is a near bottom-level takeout. It’s something that Lishia hopes can help fuel momentum for the bet.

“We’ve put a very low takeout on the wager of 12 per cent,” said Lishia. “As we all know, horseplayers look for those low takeout opportunities. So, hopefully this will be of interest. We’re going to give the wager a run and we’ll see what happens. It won’t be a one-and-done for sure. We’re going to commit at least 4-5 weeks to it and see how it goes.”

Multi-leg wagers across different tracks have gained momentum of late. In the thoroughbred industry, “Cross-Country” Pick-5’s are offered each weekend consisting of legs from as many as three different tracks, and even combining tracks from other countries. Years ago, harness racing did similar in their Balmoral and Cal Expo Pick-4 which at that time came with a $25,000 guaranteed pool. Cross-breed wagers, while rare, aren’t unprecedented in harness racing. The Meadowlands and Monmouth Park used to offer a Haskell-Hambletonian wager, and more recently in 2021 The Meadowlands and Belmont Park attempted a cross-breed Pick-5.

For The Meadows and Penn National, there could be some commonality across horseplayers. The tracks are located a couple of hours away from each other and have comparable standing in their industries. I’d say there’s a greater likelihood that those who play Penn National would be far more inclined to also make wagers at The Meadows, as opposed to let’s say someone who is dedicated to Santa Anita. So, from that perspective, Penn National aligns as a strategic partner in the wager.

Lishia likes the idea of combining different entities together to see how core fan bases react to additional tracks being included and see if there is an overall net benefit.

“It may be a stretch in trying to get your core thoroughbred players to play harness and maybe vice versa, but we’re taking a shot to see if maybe we can generate some interest,” said Lishia. “It’s a way of taking normal, standard wagers out there like the Pick-4 and trying to freshen them up a bit. Maybe it’ll be enticing to some people, maybe people will find it interesting, but we won’t know for sure until we give it a try. As far as handle, I really don’t have a specific handle expectation in mind, but I think if we can show some increase in growth over the first couple of weeks and throughout the summer, that’s the trend that we’re looking for.”

In his role at The Meadows, Lishia has already shown to be unafraid in trying something new, and then re-assessing based on those results.

“For example, when we changed our Pentafecta wager, we realized that having a Jackpot tied to it wasn’t working for us,” Lishia said. “We weren’t really generating big pools with it, and so we took the Jackpot component off it. Now that it has become a more popular bet, we’ve added a couple more of them, and just this past Wednesday we ended up guaranteeing $20,000 into the pool. The final pool was nearly $25,000 which for us, on a single wager, is pretty significant for us.

“Some things work out and some things don’t. The post time drag was one of those things we thought we could eliminate and the way it ended up, it became unmanageable, let’s say. Because once you set your post times and then somebody else ends up coming on top of you it defeats the purpose. But we do continue to try things.”

With full fields expected throughout the wager at both participating tracks, Lishia said he is grateful for the support.

“Part of what is happening is that Penn National will be throwing in a couple of turf races early on which generally have full fields, and we’ve had a lot of really good support from our horsemen this year with big fields as well,” he said. “We max out at nine horses and have had a lot of eight- and nine-horse fields this year, averaging over eight horses a race. So, in addition to the low takeout, we’re hoping to have nice, big fields for our two legs of the race, and bettors like that. It’s really kudos to all our horsemen, they’ve really been participating and supporting the entry box.”

Of course, the big event that The Meadows is already geared up for is the Adios with the finals coming at the end of this month on July 29.

From The Meadows racing secretary Tom Leasure, currently under consideration for the Adios is North America Cup winner It’s My Show, trained by Linda Toscano. Another top contender trained by Toscano, Fulton is also under consideration, as well. As usual, trainers Ron Burke and Tony Alagna have several eligible horses. Trainer Norm Parker also has the Adios on the radar for his 3-year-old A Rocknroll Dance gelding Flite Craft.