A new era in harness racing dawned Saturday night with the debut of The Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment.
The gleaming $88 million track, the vision of chairman Jeff Gural, launched with a 13-race program on a blustery, chilly night with occasional snow squalls before an estimated 15,000 fans.
The on-track handle exploded in the new facility, reaching a total of $530,917, an impressive 18-percent of the total $2,968,600.
The evening began with a dedication ceremony in the paddock with Gural thanking the numerous members of The Meadowlands team who made the dream a reality.
“To all the people who helped--and there are many of you--and for all the people who are here tonight, I hope you enjoy what you see,” Gural said. “It’s not only racing, it’s also entertainment.”
Tom Luchento, president of the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey, joined Gural in welcoming the fans on opening night.
Luchento recalled how Gural came to the rescue when The Meadowlands faced closure.
“Three years later, we are here in a magnificent new building, at the premier track in North America looking forward to showcasing the best harness racing presented anywhere in the world,” Luchento said.
There was a ceremonial ribbon breaking by a hero of yesteryear, Gallo Blue Chip. The winner of the 2000 Meadowlands Pace was also joined in the winner’s circle by Foiled Again, the sport’s all-time leading money earner at $5.7 million, who returned later that evening to win a TVG division.
The honor of winning the first race at the new Meadowlands went to Alexie Mattosie and driver David Miller in 1:50 4/5. They were greeted in the winner’s circle by Ray Remmen, who captured the first race at the original Meadowlands with Quick Baron in 1976.
The opening night features were the final $50,000 legs of the inauguaral TVG Free-For-All Series.
The $500,000 TVG finals are on tap next Saturday night along with a quartet of 2-year-old stakes: the $534,500 Governor’s Cup, the $494,750 Valley Victory, the $394,950 Three Diamonds and the $456,150 Goldsmith Maid.
The TVGs were a clean sweep for the team of driver Yannick Gingras and Ron Burke, one night after he set the single-season training record with his 1,000th win.
The TVG Trot went to Wishing Stone, a race contested in a brief but blinding blizzard. He set the pace, beating Arch Madness by 1 ¼ lengths in 1:54 with Market Share, the 2012 Hambletonian winner, third.
Foiled Again, a top contender for Horse of the Year, turned in yet another game effort in the TVG Pace. He ranged up first-over victory into a stiff wind to beat Warrawee Needy by a neck in 1:49 3/5. Modern Legend was third.
Following the racing, the party at The Meadowlands continued long into the night as Victory Sports Bar & Nightclub was packed and in full swing into the morning.
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