The Meadowlands is harness racing's flagship racetrack and as the New Jersey site goes, so does racing. If the Big M's start to 2013 is any indication, this will be a good year for racing. On-track wagering has been even with the 2012 meet, so the increase in wagering is coming from off-track sources.
Woodbine, which has also seen a handle increase in 2013 on its product, wagered $154,950 on the Jan. 5 Meadowlands card, an increase from $108,310 on last year's initial Saturday night program.
"It's a positive message for the industry when the Meadowlands is doing well,” said Woodbine Entertainment Group vice president of Standardbred racing Bruce Murray.
Balmoral Park general manager Jim Hannon said wagering in Illinois on the Jan. 4 Meadowlands card increased from $98,442 in 2012 to $140,773 this year, and on Jan. 5 the handle increased from $149,070 last year to $164,426 in 2013.
"Full fields and very competitive racing,” Jim Hannon answered when asked what he believes to be the reason in the increased play on the Meadowlands.
Hannon noted that while Balmoral's handle on its own Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 race cards both topped $1 million, the numbers decreased slightly from 2012.
"The customer dictates the market based on how he performs at the window,” said Hannon. "One reason that Balmoral does better than Maywood is the value of the bet. Bettors turn away from short-price horses, so the longer-priced the favorite is they see better value and back it more. Balmoral has always done well in regard to value for the bettor. But to be honest, that philosophy is too early to tell.
Northfield Park director of racing Dave Bianconi said his track's wagering on the Meadowlands has increased significantly so far in 2013. On Jan. 5, $23,066 was bet on the Big M, a jump from $16,671 in 2012. This year's number was second—by only $500—to wagering on Gulfstream Park.
"The Meadowlands has come out of the box in 2013 with a strong product and competitive racing, and that's definitely led to the increase in betting,” said Bianconi.
Over the first three nights of racing in 2013, favorites have won 12 of 33 races (including all five legs of the Jan. 5 Pick 5). The 36.3 percent average is far less than the 43 percent win average for favorites in 2012 at the Big M. Adding in the two nights raced at the end of 2012, favorites have won 19 of 58 races (32.7 percent).
Interestingly, the handle increase at the Meadowlands is not coming from on-track patrons. According to director of racing operations Darin Zoccali, the on-track handle numbers have remained constant from 2012, with $207,920 wagered on Thursday, Jan. 3, $307,509 on Friday, Jan. 4, and $340,466 on Saturday, Jan. 5.—By Gordon Waterstone