East Rutherford, NJ — A fast opening quarter is sometimes a bad thing in a harness race, given that in the latter stages of the mile, the horse who sprinted to the top might be on fumes in deep stretch.
But management at The Meadowlands is thrilled at the giant opening quarter the track has experienced in 2021 from a business standpoint and hopes to continue that momentum right through the end of the year.
In fact, the first quarter of 2021 at the mile oval — which concluded last Saturday (March 27) — has been one not seen in at least 10 years.
“As the United States and New Jersey rebound from the pandemic of 2020,” said track Chief Operating Officer and General Manager Jason Settlemoir, “the handle during the first quarter of 2021 at The Meadowlands indicates that our track has become an increasingly popular wagering destination with horseplayers around the world. The comparisons to previous years are staggering.”
Thus far in 2021, there have been 25 programs that have seen 341 races contested. The total handle of $81,192,515 computes to an average handle per card of $3,247,700, good for a per race of $238,101.
Those numbers were far better than just one year ago, when 2020 saw an opening quarter of 21 nights (four were lost due to COVID-19) and 276 races account for total action of $55,149,060, which averaged out to $2,626,145 per night and $199,815 per race.
When you make the comparison to 10 years ago, immediately before Jeff Gural saw fit to see racing continue at The Big M when the State of New Jersey decided it was getting out of the harness racing business, the differences were even more staggering.
That year (2011) nightly business averaged $2,280,293 and the per race was $186,723, excellent on the current national harness racing scale, but a huge 28 percent less than the action seen this year at the industry’s handle leader.
When comparing nights where all-source wagering is $3 million, the numbers look favorably on 2021.
During 2011, the first quarter saw one night where $3 million was bet. Last year, the magic number was bested twice during January, February and March, but so far this year, action has already busted the $3 million barrier a remarkable 16 times.
Highest single handle of the quarter? Not surprisingly, 2021 has it by a lot, at $4.56 million, followed by 2011’s $3.09 million and 2020’s $3.06 million.
“The Meadowlands and the State of New Jersey are proud to say that we are both coming back from the pandemic in a big way,” said Settlemoir. “Thanks to the help of Gov. Murphy and the State Legislature, The Big M will once again be turned into a valuable asset, a sparkling facility that is full of life.”
That appears to be accurate, given the number of choices a patron has when they arrive at the facility.
Take this Saturday (April 3), for example. During the day, simulcast fans can bet all the best Thoroughbred action in the country, as well as the NCAA Basketball Tournament’s semifinals.
Racing fans will have the Kentucky Derby on their minds as the three final major preps for the May 1 “Run for the Roses” take place. New York’s Aqueduct Racetrack will host the Wood Memorial (which has a post time of 5:58 p.m.), California’s Santa Anita Park has the Santa Anita Derby (6:30 p.m.) and Kentucky’s Keeneland Race Course has the Bluegrass (6:35 p.m.).
College hoop fans will have the opportunity to watch and wager on the Houston vs. Baylor (-5, -215 money line) game, which tips off at 5:14 p.m. Then, at 8:34 p.m., tournament favorite Gonzaga (-14, -1100) takes on UCLA. The two winners will meet in the championship game Monday (April 4) at 9 p.m.
Of course, for those who like The Big M for the world’s best harness action, clear weather is expected for Saturday, which will allow on-track patrons to relax outdoors in a safe socially distant setting, watching the races while enjoying the action with their favorite food and beverage.
More Money: Effective Friday (April 2), The Meadowlands will offer purse increases ranging from $500 to $2,500, with the lower classes getting smaller boosts and the higher classes’ purses swelling even more.
There are several factors that went into the added green.
“We take over a million dollars a year from sports betting for purses,” said Jeff Gural, the chairman and chief executive officer of the mile oval. “We have sponsors and we received a subsidy from the state.”
The larger purses should give The Big M a leg up on area tracks with slots-revenue bloated purse structures in the never-ending battle for horses as the mile oval continues to card 13 races a night with as many 10-horse fields as possible.
The Schedule: Live racing continues every Friday and Saturday with a first-race post time of 6:20 p.m.
Big M TV’s live “Racing from The Meadowlands” pre-game show, which provides news and notes, features, a look at that evening’s featured action and staff selections, gets underway at 5:47 p.m.
Free, Free, Free: The Meadowlands offers past performances for every race of every card at no cost.
To get your free PPs, go to The Big M’s website, playmeadowlands.com.
Get Social: You can always check in with the team at The Meadowlands on Twitter.
For early changes, racing information and staff selections, go to @themeadowlands or #playbigm.
On race nights, stay in touch with the Big M’s Dave Brower (@eedoogie), Dave Little (@DaveLittleBigM), Ken Warkentin (@kenvoiceover), Andrew Demsky (@shadesonracing) and Jessica Otten (@JessicaOtten1).
Check Out The Picks: For those who need to get a leg up on the action, go to playmeadowlands.com to see track oddsmaker and analyst Brower’s selections and commentary. Click on the “handicapping” tab and go to “race reviews.”
Brower’s input is generally available 48 hours before every card.