Remembering the Meadowlands Racetrack

October 13, 2012 02:15am
In my life as a horse racing fan, the Meadowlands was a special place. For years a very good racing buddy and I went to the races at the Meadowlands every Thursday night. It meant late nights and long drives along the New Jersey Turnpike, but the racing was good and by today’s standards the crowds were large. The Meadowlands attracted people from Northern Jersey and more of a New York crowd, which was very different from the family beach scene at Monmouth Park in the summers.
The Meadowlands Sports Complex grew out of the wetlands of Northern New Jersey along the western branch of the Turnpike.  The idea began as a way to get an NFL team into New Jersey and then became reality when Governor William Cahill signed the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority Law in 1971.
David A. “Sonny” Werblin, former president of the NY Jets, became chairman of the NJSEA. With the Jets he was responsible for the signing of Joe Namath and is credited with building the Meadowlands racetrack and the Stadium, which would become the home of the NY Giants.  Later in his career Werblin would become the Chairman of Madison Square Garden. He was involved with racing as the owner of Elberon Farm, which campaigned two champions Process Shot and Silent Screen.
Thoroughbred racing began on September 6, 1977, with a 100 night thoroughbred meeting. Dave Johnson, famous for his calls of the Triple Crown races and his trademark, “…and down the stretch they come”, was the original track announcer.
The track was nicknamed The Big M to seemingly attract the New York crowd with the play on the nickname of Aqueduct racetrack, the Big A. Major stakes race were run on Thursday nights to avoid competing with the weekend stakes at the New York tracks. Night racing was a big success.  In the first two years average daily attendance was over 17,000.
The Meadowlands Cup, the signature stake, began as a 10 furlong race on the dirt track and was run on Thursday night. In the early years of the meeting, the Cup was won by Dr. Patches 1978, Spectacular Bid 1979, Wild Again 1984, Broad Brush 1986, Crème Fraiche 1987, and Alysheba 1988.  Angel Cordero, Jr. won the race four times in the 1970’s and 1980’s, while John Velazquez won it four times in the later years. Ron McAnally and Bobby Frankel each won the Cup twice.
The seven-time Eclipse Award winning Hall of Fame horse John Henry made his last start at the Meadowlands.  He won the grade one Ballantine Handicap going a mile and three eighths on the turf.
Over the years attendance declined, and by the time the last full thoroughbred meet was run in 2008, there were only 40 racing days with an average of 3,556 people.
Regardless, the thoroughbreds are back at the Meadowlands in 2012, for racing on the turf course only. Converting the main harness surface to use by thoroughbreds involved adding 11,000 tons of clay, sand, and soil to the track. Each Friday and Saturday from October 12 until November 3, an eight day Monmouth Park at the Meadowlands fall meeting will bring the Sport of Kings back to East Rutherford with first post at 2:15 pm.


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Older Comments about Remembering the Meadowlands Racetrack...

art.paradiso--Are you going to the Meadowlands for the turf racing? A few of the Twitter crowd said there was a decent turnout on Friday.
The Big M was the place to be. Saw every big race they had
Yea, I loved my Thursday Night trips to the Meadowlands. Great racing and crowds.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Matt. I have so many great memories of racing at the Meadowlands ... would you believe I was there for John Henry's last race? I tried to beat him with Win. I should have known better.

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In the 70’s I was another one of those kids that went to the track with their fathers, and I immediately became enthralled with the excitement and challenges of handicapping.  And then the charisma and dominance of Secretariat gave me a hero to follow. To this day, I still get emotional when I hear Chic Anderson’s call of the 1973 Belmont, “Secretariat is moving like a tremendous machine”.

There have been many great horses run at the shore. In 1976 I watched Majestic Light win the Monmouth Invitational, now the Haskell, in track record time, defeating Honest Pleasure, the big favorite who was in from New York.  This was one of my first big wins at the track.
In the 80’s, as a disciple of Andy Beyer, I made my own speed figures because they were not available to the public. Needless to say I visited Monmouth frequently to test out the “figs”.
The 90’s allowed me to learn about the backstretch as a part owner of a few claimers that were stabled at Philadelphia Park.  Not a typical owner, I mucked stalls, cooled out the horses, and watched morning works.  Also, I met my wife and discovered that her grandfather bred, owned, and raced thoroughbreds on the West Virginia, Maryland circuit.  Today our office is decorated with winner’s circle pictures and a vast collection of Kentucky Derby glasses.
Today’s electronic age makes it so easy to gather information about racing.  I hope you use this blog to learn about Racing at the Jersey Shore.


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