After a fan-free, eerily quiet Meadowlands Pace 2020, a “return to normalcy” was supposed to be in the cards at the Meadowlands Racetrack on Saturday night.
It was anything but.
For instance, in the $700,000 feature race, apparent winner Charlie May was disqualified for interference, making way for Lawless Shadow to be declared the winner. Track officials found that Charlie May interfered with Rockyroad Hanover while three horses headed to the stretch, so Charlie May’s 1:48.3 time was not enough to earn the top prize.
Lawless Shadow was therefore placed first, with pre-race favorite Perfect Sting second and Southwind Gendry claiming third. Lawless Shadow paid $12.40, $5.20, and $3.40 to win, place, and show.
But that DQ was hardly the only hiccup of the night.
Rain, rain, go away
The crowd of 6,421 was only around half of what would have been expected, as projected rain showers unfortunately turned into reality for fans like Gov. Phil Murphy, who presented the trophy to the Meadowlands Pace winner.
Fox Sports 2 showed four live races nationally, beginning with the sixth race — just in time for the skies to open up with some especially wet weather.
The big worry, of course, was lightning — but that never came to fruition in East Rutherford during the races, leaving at least one saving grace. Some nearby communities lost power late Saturday afternoon, but the Big M was spared that indignity as well.
The track’s café hot dog cart, meanwhile, at one point wound up in a 15-minute break when the demand for dogs temporarily exceeded the supply.
Total horse betting handle for Meadowlands Pace was $4.5 million — marking just the second time the Pace Night handle reached that figure in the last 13 years, and proving that the inclement weather that led to a small crowd did not dampen the enthusiasm for wagering on the races.
In fact, the feature race’s handle was $677,992, the highest handle for the race in the past 10 years.
A meeting of the (drivers’) minds
The big, if wet, race night took place just one night after a mandatory drivers’ meeting on Friday night convened by track owner Jeff Gural.
“We want to discuss the unfavorable comments we have received from our customers regarding the lack of competitiveness in many of the races,” Gural told USTrottingNews.com.
“I’d like to talk about how we might improve the product, especially considering we are going to show some of the races on national TV [America’s Day at the Races on Fox Sports 2] on Pace night. The idea is to do some things differently, evaluate the results during the break between the Hambletonian and when we reopen on Sept. 3, and decide if in fact these changes helped or hurt.”
The Meadowlands will feature three more weekends of Friday/Saturday cards, including that Hambletonian Day on Aug. 7. After the break mentioned by Gural, the other “open weekends” for harness racing at the Big M for the rest of 2021 are the first three weekends in October and then Dec. 24-25.