East Rutherford, NJ — The Meadowlands is known as the top racetrack in all of harness racing. Big fields with the best horses from the best trainers going for big purses is a formula for success.
But the one thing that players of the mile oval might best identify with is the driver colony, which started out as the best in the game and has continued to steadily improve since the beginning of the COVID-19 era. It has now reached heights likely never seen in the 45-year history of the track.
“The top drivers of any era could compete and adapt to today’s style of racing,” said Hambletonian Society President John Campbell, who is the leading driver in Meadowlands history. “That being said, the driver colony that is currently at The Meadowlands is deeper than it has ever been.”
A look at the 2020 North American final driver statistics show where the talent level is at The Big M. In terms of money earnings, the top five all drive regularly in East Rutherford. Dexter Dunn, the two-time defending United States Harness Writers Association’s Driver of the Year, had earnings of $11.1 million and won the 2020 Fall Meet driving title at The Meadowlands. He is the current leader in the standings at the Championship Meeting with 75 trips to the winner’s circle.
Tim Tetrick, who last weekend swept both Miss Versatility divisions at the mile oval, earned $9.9 million, followed by Yannick Gingras — who was the regular pilot for Horse of the Year Tall Dark Stranger — at $9.2 million, David Miller — the second-leading money-earning driver of all-time at more than $250 million — with $8.3 million, and Andy McCarthy — who won the only two million-dollar races in the sport a year ago — with $6.6 million.
In addition, with racing still halted in Ontario, Canada’s top two drivers from 2020 — Bob McClure and Doug McNair — have moved their tacks temporarily to the Big M.
Other names seen in the Meadowlands’ program with regularity are Scott Zeron, Joe Bongiorno, Brian Sears, George Brennan, Corey Callahan and Andy Miller.
That means 13 of the top 22 drivers in the game from a year ago are part of the prolific roster of pilots at the mile oval.
“It’s one of the greatest driver colonies ever assembled,” said track Chief Operating Officer and General Manager Jason Settlemoir. “The horseplayers around the world are speaking with their dollars. It’s incredible to see this kind of talent competing every weekend on a mile track. Let’s be perfectly honest. The Meadowlands is hosting an All-Star game every night.”
Last weekend was like so many others lately, with vigorous wagering. In fact, Friday and Saturday saw total betting of better than $7 million over the 26 races, the sixth time this year weekend action reached that lofty plateau.
“The handle numbers don’t lie,” said Settlemoir. “We are getting Thoroughbred players and sports bettors to wager on our races, and our pools haven’t been this large in over a decade. And the best is yet to come during our Championship Meet.”
Little Dimes Bring Big Dollars: On Friday (May 7), the 20-cent Pick-5 — which saw a total pool of more than $96,000 — paid off a handsome $2,085. Also looking good was the return of the second-race 10-cent Superfecta, which came back $2,669.
Saturday’s scores came in the Pick-5 (which took in $106,001 in play), which paid a whopping $19,417, thanks to 70-1 and 16-1 longshots during the sequence. Like the P5, the second-race Super came back big again, at $4,348.
The track’s popular Pick-4 wagers were strong all weekend, as a total of $478,167 was pushed through the windows for the bets’ four editions, good for an average of $119,541 per pool.
Pick-6 Carryover: There were no winning tickets sold in the 20-cent Pick-6 last Saturday (May 8), which means the wager will have a carryover of $14,686 for Friday night’s card. The last two Pick-6s that had carryovers saw pools that totaled $56,611 (on April 30) and $73,124 (April 10).
Players should keep in mind, the $14,686 is not subject to the already low 15 percent takeout. Thus, if there were $70,000 in “new money” wagered Friday, only $10,500 would be taken out of the pool’s grand total of $84,686, leaving $74,186.
What does that mean?
The return to players, instead of the usual 85 percent, would be 106 percent, a positive return to the bettor, which proves the power of the carryovers.
Have Some More: With racing down in Ontario, The Meadowlands has stepped in to help out by adding events to the already dense stakes calendar.
With the May 23 Confederation Cup canceled, the Big M added a Graduate leg (with two $50,000 divisions on the pace) this Saturday to fill the opening in the schedule.
The Miss Versatility leg which was to be raced at Mohawk on May 28 will now be at The Big M on May 29. There will also be an additional leg on June 12.
Getting back to this week, this Saturday’s card will be topped by the $141,250 Cutler Memorial for Free For All trotters, and will also have a trio of $30,000 Preferreds.
Low Takeout, High Handle: The Big M offers players six opportunities every night to make a score betting on the track’s popular wagers that offer a low 15 percent takeout.
Race 1: 20-cent Pick-5
Race 3: 20-cent Survivor Pick-7
Race 6: 50-cent Pick-4
Race 8: 20-cent Pick-6
Race 10: 50-cent Pick-4
Race 13: 10-cent Hi-5/Pentafecta
Get Social, Not Distant: 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) and Jessica Otten (@JessicaOtten1).
No Money, No Problem!: Need a program but don’t want to spend any green?
The Big M has you covered, with free programs of every race of every race card. Just go to playmeadowlands.com to get your no-cost past performances.
Guaranteed Green: Every night, The Meadowlands promises big money on both editions of its signature wager, as each 50-cent Pick-4 sports a guaranteed pool of $50,000.
Lately, the guarantees have led to some serious action, as 16 of the last 18 Pick-4 pools have gone past the $100,000 mark.
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, notes, features, staff selections and a look at that evening’s marquee races, gets underway at 5:47 p.m.
Get Ready To Play: For those who like 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.
Preakness Saturday: Leg two of Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown takes place this Saturday, and while the mile and three-sixteenths long Preakness Stakes might be taking place in Baltimore, the place to watch and wager on “The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans” is at one of the best simulcast facilities in the country at The Meadowlands.
Gates at The Big M open at 9:30 a.m. and post time at Pimlico for the first of 14 races is 10:30 a.m. The 146th running of The Preakness, which is race 13 on the program, has a post time of 6:47 p.m.