When Meadowlands Racetrack owner Jeff Gural has a strong opinion, he is never shy about letting everyone know about it.
And so it was that, on Friday, Gural posted a missive expressing his disappointment with the level of competition at his harness racing track of late.
“As you know, this weekend due to the lack of support at the entry box we had to go with seven amateur races, which is an embarrassment, even though our customers like wagering on them for some reason,” Gural wrote in a message posted on the track’s website on the eve of another weekend of Friday night and Saturday night racing.
“You will notice major changes to this week’s condition sheet when it goes online later this weekend. Our plan is to go with short series with two legs and a final, all for increased purses, in the hope that we get more entries.
“I apologize for taking so long to make these changes in our racing program, but my buildings are only 40% occupied — so I am focused on that.
“I want to remind all of you that when the Meadowlands was on the verge of closing, I stepped up and built a beautiful brand new facility. Never in a million years did I expect not to be supported by the trainers and drivers.”
A blunt reminder of the past
Gural was referring to the second half of 2010, when new Gov. Chris Christie decided that if the Meadowlands track couldn’t survive without outside subsidies, there was no reason it should continue to exist.
“Honestly, at first I thought he was bluffing — until I got to know him,” Gural recalled to NJ Online Gambling in 2021. “It would have been a mistake, but he was willing to make it.”
So Gural, a wealthy real estate mogul in the greater New York City region and a racehorse owner himself, agreed to take over operations.
“The first thing everyone said to me when I took over is, ‘You have to get rid of the drug guys,’” Gural added in his letter. “I took that to heart and spent over $1.5 million of my own money to put these guys in jail.”
Gural also made reference to rival harness racing tracks in New York and Pennsylvania that enjoy massive racing purse subsidies from slot machine operations, which does not occur at the Meadowlands.
“The fact that we have eliminated the beards (stand-ins for corrupt trainers and owners) does not seem to be helping, as apparently you enjoy racing against them at Yonkers, Chester, and Pocono,” he wrote. “I doubt if any of your owners even go to watch their horses race at those three tracks and would much rather race at the Meadowlands, where we have a beautiful facility and a club for owners that everyone also asked me to include in the design.”
The $88 million new grandstand opened in late 2013.
Horsemen put on notice
Gural further wrote: “I hope to see a major increase this week in entries, and for the balance of the year. We intend to limit the number of amateur races to two each week, to see if that helps.
“I am looking forward to seeing a major improvement beginning next week, and hopefully I can count on the industry to do the right thing and support us.
“Good luck to those who are going to participate in our major stakes over the remainder of the Championship Meet,” Gural added of the schedule that wraps up with Hambletonian Day on Aug. 6. “If anyone has any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.”