Prime Time at The Big M

by John Furgele

Starting tonight, SNY will broadcast live from The Meadowlands Thursdays through March 9. The show will run for one hour and the goal is to show three lives races each week in the 9:30 to 10:30 pm window,

You can love it or hate it, but The Meadowlands is still the big track in harness racing. It’s one-mile oval, as well as its place as the host for the Hambletonian put it above the others. Sure, there’s the Red Mile in Lexington and both Woodbine and Mohawk are fine tracks near Toronto, but The Big M is….the Big M.

Jeffrey Gural owns Meadowlands Racetrack and he desperately was seeking a casino at the track to compliment harness racing, but that was voted down by New Jersey voters. In pure irony, much of the “say no,” campaign was funded by casino operators in nearby Delaware and Pennsylvania. Gural owns a racino in Vernon Downs as well as Tioga Downs, which became a fill-blown casino in 2016. I guess what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander. If Gural owned a racino in Pennsylvania……

Unlike most harness tracks, The Meadowlands operates as a pure horse-racing track; there are no video slots or electronic poker to divert the patrons. If you go to The Big M, you are there to play the ponies.   As a result, the purses are good, but not as great in comparison to some of the racinos. Tracks like Yonkers, which offers video gaming machines, are offering bigger purses than The Big M, but Yonkers has a half-mile oval that historically favors front-runners. Because of this, there will always be good handles in East Rutherford. There are some handicappers that won’t bet Yonkers—or any half-mile oval—because of the bias. On a Friday night, handle is usually in the $215,000 range for each race at The Big M. Yonkers can only wish for that.

Tonight’s nine-race card doesn’t break the bank with $61,000 in purses, compared to $121,000 for 10 races at Yonkers tonight, but the fact remains that The Big M is still The Big M, and handicappers have never really cared about purses; they care about making money. Monticello’s feature race offers no more than a $5,000 daily purse, yet it takes in more handle than Yonkers does on a per-race basis.

And, the Big M is still big enough to get on a regional sports network in prime time. That means something.

See you at the races!

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