Four months after the Meadowlands Racetrack made a series of strategic changes, the operator of the historic venue says it's more than pleased with the early returns.
Executives with the East Rutherford racetrack said this week that comparisons to last year are "staggering," following the end of its winter season on Saturday. Total betting over the 43 racing dates rose 32.5 percent to about $125 million, from around $95 million in 2012, New Meadowlands Racetrack LLC said in a news release.
The operator, which opted to have more live racing dates in cold-weather months, also noted that the Meadowlands was responsible for almost 25 percent of all wagers on standardbred racing in the United States during that time.
The harness racing venue is now in its second season under horseracing and real estate executive Jeff Gural, whose company is operating the track under a long-term lease with the state. The group this fall will also complete a new state-of-the-art replacement for the facility's 35-year-old grandstand, which has become oversized and underused amid the industry's decline.
The Meadowlands' winter meet opened in late December, incorporating several changes that Gural hoped will boost business and narrow the gap between his track and those in other states that can offer slot parlors. The changes included starting the season earlier, adding dates and prizes to encourage races with older horses and introducing "classified" racing — meaning horses are categorized by ability, not their prior winnings, in an attempt to make races more competitive and have fuller fields.
"There were several changes made that seemed to really hit home with our customers when it comes to our racing product," Darin Zoccali, the track's director of racing operations, said in a written statement.
Gural's company shared other major news this week, announcing that Hard Rock International had agreed to make an equity investment in the track that extends to future development projects.
Also in a statement, Gural said it was important for the track to build momentum leading up to the opening of the new grandstand.
"While the winter months are always best for our business, the results from this winter exceeded our expectations," he said, later adding, "This year is pivotal to the future of the Meadowlands and we certainly got off on the right foot."