Salvi discusses Meadowlands updated stakes schedule

Gordon Waterstone

Lexington, KY — The calendar turning to spring usually means the reappearance of stars of racing from the previous year, and after a year impacted dramatically by the shutdown of racing across the continent last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 seemed to be back to the norm. However, as we now sit in the second week of May that is certainly the case for U.S.-based trainers, but not so for their Canadian brethren.

Although racetracks in Canada — specifically Ontario — had returned to racing, a surprise decision by the provincial government to halt action last month led to indecision by trainers on how to proceed. Some trainers and drivers headed straight to the border to find temporary homes at U.S. tracks. No site was more welcoming than The Meadowlands, which with the cooperation of the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey, was able to not only reschedule some of the canceled stakes events, but also add races.

Included among the races postponed in Ontario is the Pepsi North America Cup at Woodbine Mohawk Park, which was moved from June to September, and undercard events such as the Fan Hanover for 3-year-old filly pacers and the Roses Are Red for older mare pacers. Legs of the Graduate Series for 4-year-olds and the Miss Versatility for older trotting mares were canceled. At Flamboro Downs, the Confederation Cup for 4-year-old pacers was taken off the 2021 schedule.

Not only did the calendar need to be altered slightly to fill some ominous gaps in the schedule, but money had to be found to fund to the additional contests. The Meadowlands stakes manager Nick Salvi took a few minutes with me to explain the scenario.

GW: It seems as if it didn’t take long for The Meadowlands to step in after the announcement that racing in Ontario was going to be shut down again.

NS: I was caught off guard by the Ontario shut down and I don’t think many trainers were expecting it either. Things were pretty much on schedule for a couple of qualifiers leading into the Mohawk swing in June that provides high dollar stakes for most divisions, until they weren’t.

Once the postponement was announced it was a given that The Meadowlands would pick up the Graduate leg and Miss Versatility. Beyond that, we quickly recognized the need to address the void left in the schedule. Adding races over The Meadowlands racetrack helps trainers to get or keep those horses fit to be in top form for our Championship Meet stakes and owners earn a little during what would be a lost month. Hopefully, the quality of the races will benefit The Meadowlands business-wise as well.

GW: First you had to find the proper dates. Any difficulties there?

NS: What we do at the race secretary meetings in Florida is try schedule the major stakes to avoid conflict. When you take one of those out of the rotation, there is nothing. At The Meadowlands we were prepared to have a quiet June with all the top horses and drivers being in Canada…and for the last 10 years or so that is how it has gone.

It happened to be opening weekend at Tioga Downs when the news broke. I was there to help get them open, Jeff (Gural) came up for the races and on Sunday as we were discussing the Graduate and Miss Versatility, we talked about the gap for 3-year-olds left by the postponement of the Mohawk stakes and what might be done. I put some ideas on a calendar and on Monday Jeff, (Meadowlands GM) Jason Settlemoir, (race secretary) Scott Warren and I went over it and agreed on a plan. Tuesday, we made it known.

After talking to a few trainers, we thought it best to offer stand-alone races each week instead of stringing along a series for them. There are a few Sires Stakes and the Messenger at the end of June, so rather than have them have to make a choice we will put on Open classes for 3-year-old colt and filly pacers for $50,000 each Saturday in June. Training and qualifying only gets you so far, the horses need to race.

We carded some 3-year-old trots on a couple Fridays. That division has Sires Stakes, the Empire Breeders Classic and the Yonkers Trot in June. Not everybody wants to take their 3-year-old trotter to Yonkers before the Hambletonian so we provided them with some options, too. All will give preference to horses paid into our stakes.

GW: First up was rescheduling the canceled legs of the Graduate and Miss Versatility. You also added a Graduate leg coming up this Saturday (May 15) to fill an opening in the schedule with the May 23 Confederation Cup canceled. And the Miss Versatility leg on May 28 at Mohawk will now be raced at The Meadowlands on May 29, with an additional leg added on June 12.

NS: Yes. We also moved the Graduate June 26 leg to June 19 to make an open week before the former Tioga races (which have some 4-year-olds eligible) on July 3. Next will be the Graduate final July 10, then the Hambletonian Maturity and our Meadowlands Pace supporting FFA stakes on July 17, three tough starts in three weeks.

Because of Jeff’s interest in horses continuing to race beyond age three we have tried to provide stakes that allow the 4-year-olds to start out against their own age before having to face older. We resurrected the Graduate Series in 2015 for that purpose and the Confederation Cup gave them two starts in May. We work toward a schedule where we have a Graduate leg early, step aside for the Confederation Cup, then we resume the Graduate with the Mohawk leg and one at The Meadowlands before the finals. The Cup cancellation left a two-week gap that resulted in the May 15 leg for pacers.

GW: Jason Settlemoir received a phone call from trainer Nancy Takter to make sure the older pacing mares were not overlooked as her stable includes Peaky Sneaky and JK First Lady. Now The Big M’s schedule will have races for that division later this month and early in June.

NS: Nancy reached out to Jason because of the Roses Are Red postponement which has resulted in a short overnight series at The Meadowlands. Overnight because we need them to be viable betting races and if payments are taken, you are restricted to the horses that are made eligible and that’s it. It seems clear that the overnight choice is the better option at this late date.

Trotting mares are covered with the Miss Versatility, the older trotting horses have the Cutler, then the Maxie Lee; the pacing horses have the Commodore Barry then the Battle of Lake Erie at Northfield Park. After that, the schedule is blank until our July 3 stakes, so we will add something for them.

GW: How did Race Secretary Scott Warren roll with all these late changes?

NS: If I were going to start a racetrack and I had the first pick in the Racing Secretary draft, I would pick Scott Warren. It was not a problem…it never is.

GW: Most importantly, where is the money coming for these races?

NS: We are fortunate that we have the money to do these things due to increased handle and the sports betting is going well. We can do this while the overnight purses for the horses that support The Meadowlands year-round will not be compromised and continue to be at or near the top in the region. These moves were made in cooperation with the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey, who are good partners and recognize that the benefit is to their member horse people.

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