NJ To Prosecute Racing's Wrongdoers?
Published: January 23, 2012 11:21 am ET
Last Comment: January 30, 2012 8:59 am ET | 15 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments
Prosecution, not drug testing, is the way to ensure integrity in harness racing, Jeff Gural told the sold-out crowd at the Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association Awards Banquet in Toronto on Saturday, January 21.
“Some individuals will always be one step ahead of any testing procedures,” he said,” but once a couple of people are taken away in handcuffs, that will be a big deterrent.”
Gural emphasized that he’s prepared to use his newly-forged relationship with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s office to make prosecution for illegal drug use in racing a stern reality.
Restoring a level playing field for participants is integral to Gural’s vision for the 'New Meadowlands.' He was candid with the crowd, laying out the sequence that led to his current 30-year lease on the East Rutherford, New Jersey property owned by the State of New Jersey.
Even before the current meet opened on January 6, Gural instituted some major changes designed to revive the fan base at the track. Applications had to be made to participate and some people were not accepted. Others are currently there on probation, he said.
Gural also cautioned the driver colony that they needed to do their part, and at their request he re-banked the 'Big M’s turns to benefit horses coming from off the flow.
Horseplayers have responded to what Gural now sees as a much better racing product by increasing the on-track handle by 25-30 per cent on the first three weekends.
A longtime owner and breeder himself, Gural also briefly alluded to his intention to restrict entry to major races at his racetracks to offspring whose sires have raced as four-year-olds.
He sees instituting this policy effective with the 2013 breeding season, as “a game changer” and one that will bring the crowds out to watch stellar sophomores return to the track.
Gural is well aware that there’s vocal opposition to this part of his revitalization package, but he thanked the Woodbine Entertainment Group for its declared intention to support the policy at their tracks.
Key to the game plan for the New Meadowlands is the construction of a smaller, ultra-modern grandstand set to open in 2013.
Bob Green of the Toronto firm of Climans Green Liang joined Gural on stage with renderings of the proposed new facility. It includes a four-tier clubhouse, simulcasting area, owner’s club and 2,200 seats in the main grandstand.
“Every effort is being made to maximize sightlines to the track,” the architect told the group.
Green’s firm specializes in racetracks and racinos. They built Georgian Downs and also Gural’s Tioga Downs in Nichols, New York.
Gural referred to the capitalization of the project and said he has now raised $75 million of the $100 million required. Ultimately, though, he thinks it will take a casino to really turn things around at the Meadowlands.
“In all honesty, I wouldn’t have done all this if I didn’t think I’d get a casino. Hopefully a casino will get me even for all the money I’ve lost over the years in owning, breeding and at the racetrack,” he joked.
“I guess you could say it’s a $100 million bet.”
Greg Blanchard hosted the awards ceremonies which followed the keynote speaker, as the breeders behind the Ontario Sires Stakes top success stories of 2011 were honoured with trophies and framed racing photos.
Two particularly prestigious awards to individuals are presented annually at the SBOA Banquet and only unveiled that evening. This year, Mike Wilson of Warrawee Farm in Rockwood, Ont. won the Chris Van Bussel Award for service to SBOA and to the industry. The Lloyd Chisholm Award for meritorious service went to John Levy of The Score for his extraordinary media efforts to highlight harness racing.
Broodmare of the Year Awards, sponsored by Master Feeds, go annually to horses whose offspring have earned distinction not only in the OSS, but beyond. This year’s pacing Broodmare of the year was Warrawee Farm’s Mystic Mistress (Dexter Nukes--Pam Ryan), dam of the winners of over $3.8 million, including standouts Mystician and Camystic.
Trotting Broodmare of the Year was Dave and Mary Lemon’s Daylon Marvel (Super Pleasure--Miss Marvel), whose production record is highlighted by their own $1.2-million earner Daylon Magician.