Meadowlands chairman Jeff Gural confirmed to harnessracing.com Thursday afternoon that he has told driver Brian Sears he will no longer be permitted to drive in qualifiers or baby races at the Meadowlands. Gural added that Sears will also not be allowed to drive in any overnight races, while Sears's status for stakes races has not yet been decided. Sears spoke with harnessracing.com about Gural's action and then issued a statement later via email (see below).
Sears has been driving in qualifiers at the Meadowlands, most recently on June 7 when he won with the world champion 3-year-old filly trotter Designed To Be. He was listed to drive in four qualifiers on Friday—one of which was behind 2013 Hambletonian winner Royalty For Life—and four baby races on Saturday.
A multiple driving champion at the Meadowlands, most recently in 2011, Sears moved his base of operations following the conclusion of the 2012 meet to Yonkers Raceway. He led the drivers' standings at Yonkers in 2013 in wins and earnings, but one of his biggest days came when he won the Hambletonian with Royalty For Life and the companion Oaks with Bee A Magician at the Meadowlands.
"I'm very disappointed and disheartened that Jeff made this decision, and I'm hoping we can find a resolution,” Sears told harnessracing.com. "This really should be a non-issue, so it's just disappointing.”
Late Thursday afternoon, Sears issued the following statement via email:
"I am deeply disappointed in Jeff Gural's recent decision to exclude me from the Meadowlands, Tioga and Vernon. I am a licensed driver in good standing with the New Jersey Racing Commission, the New York Gaming Commission and all other governing bodies throughout North America. I have done nothing wrong and have broken no rules. The only thing I did was say no to Jeff when he asked me to leave Yonkers and return to the Meadowlands earlier this year.
"Owners in this game pay a lot of money to buy good horses and pay a lot of money to stake those good horses everywhere including the Meadowlands. Some of those owners want me to drive their horses in baby races, qualifiers, overnights and stakes. I've spent my whole career working hard to get to a point where owners want to have me drive their top horses. It's disheartening that this is an issue."