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Some Big M handicappers say it's too early

February 02, 2012

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With just 11 race cards and 125 races contested this year (through Jan. 28) at the Meadowlands, some keen observers believe it is still too early to determine the impact the new banking of the racetrack has had on the racing.

Although it was expected the banking of the track would lead to an increase in the number of winning horses who closed from behind, early results show that the front end has continued to hold up.

Although the early-season stats also show that horses from the outside post positions are landing on the trifecta ticket a higher percentage than in 2011, Les Stark, a long-time handicapper of races at the Meadowlands, believes it’s too early to forecast any long-range numbers.

“As far as the stats go, you need a much larger sampling before you can determine one way or another,” said Stark. “Here’s the thing about the outer posts at the Meadowlands: In the last dozen years or so, if you were a contender and had an outer post, you could leave out of there and there was a hole in the first turn 100 percent of the time. People would think that you were the horse to follow so they would let you in and then follow you.

“Now I wouldn’t expect the outer posts to have as good as stats, but the racing in general will be better. Those horses may now have to go on to the front earlier than they want to because there are no holes. This will give the closers a chance to get into contention because there will be no one getting in the way of those coming from the back.”

Andy Berg, also a longtime handicapper of racing at the Meadowlands, said with the Big M coming off a four-month break and many horses starting off one or two qualifiers, the fitness of the horses is a major factor in the racing.

“Clearly there has been a fair amount of closers, at least as many as there should be,” said Berg. “But with the horses at different fitness levels this time of year…it’s hard to say what it means. You could have a fit horse on the outside and an unfit horse on the inside.

“It’s too early to tell if the inside-outside thing is holding up,” continued. Berg. “There’s been a lot of horses racing off layoffs…so the samples we’ve had aren’t solid enough to draw any conclusion. I think the idea of the bank is that the outside lane has a better shot than it used to, but I can’t say that yet.”

Stark said he believes a meeting between new track operator Jeff Gural and the driving colony prior to the meet has had a major impact on racing.

“I’ve read how stats read that speed is better than it was in past years…but I believe it was the ‘pep talk’ that the drivers got prior to the season starting about closing holes and not clogging the outer tier, that had a positive effect on the races,” he said. “While some experts whose opinions I value have said that speed is better than ever, I disagree. It’s the flow of the races that is better than it was before. Is it from the banking? I would think not, but I’m not an expert on banking.”

Although Berg may not have an opinion on the January stats, he believes he knows for certain what will transpire in the coming months. “It doesn’t take a genius to know that we are going to have a very fast track come summertime,” he said. “When you are banking the turns you are lessening the centrifugal force on all of the horses so everybody is going to go faster.

“Golden Receiver went 1:48 in a cakewalk (in the Presidential Series on Jan. 7) and it was freezing that night and the wind was blowing. It was a very fast track that day, one of the fastest tracks I’ve ever seen in the wintertime. This track is going to be lightning fast in the summertime.”

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