Day At The Track

Team Gural poised for tonight's Meadowlands launch

04:36 AM 24 Nov 2013 NZDT
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Owner Jeff Gural hopes for a big crowd on opening night.
Photo by Chris Tully
The entrance to the new Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment
Photo by Chris Tully
Here are the features of the new Meadowlands grandstand
Photo by Chris Tully
"Pink" is the new 300-seat tiered clubhouse
Photo by Chris Tully
CEO Jason Settlemoir and track announcer Ken Warkentin check out the new TV Studio
Photo by Chris Tully
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Jeff Gural, the man credited with saving the Meadowlands, is poised to ring the opening bell on a new era of racing at his premier harness racing facility in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The owner of three harness tracks and two casinos has accomplished great things in a relatively short period of time. 
Tonight, the eyes on an entire industry will be fixed upon the new Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment complex.   By all accounts, the facility will not disappoint.  At over 180,000 square feet, which is large by “new” industry standards, the new grandstand is about one-third the size of the original grandstand that still stands watch on the new backstretch.
In addition to the large simulcast areas that opened Monday, the preview on Thursday night allowed horsemen to sample the new fare at Pink, the 300-seat tiered clubhouse area.  The main bar area known as Lounge, doubles as a nightclub.  Trotters, a high-end owners club sold out for the season at $2,500 per four top.
Asked about watching his dream come to fruition, Gural was proud, but pragmatic.  “It feels good.  We will see how it goes on Saturday.  Hopefully we will have a good crowd and things won’t get too crazy.  I am really excited and I think that the place is beautiful.  Hopefully we will get the people to turn out the way they used to.”
For all of Gural and his staff’s efforts, Thursday’s preview went smoothly, and his generosity was rewarded by a full clubhouse.  Pink was packed with horsemen that were invited to a complimentary meal while watching the qualifying races.  “The Boss,” as Gural is sometimes referred to in program promotions, meandered around the tables, greeting guests and industry leaders like the maître d’ at a fine restaurant.  Director of Racing Darin Zocalli tweeted and showed well-wishers pictures of his young son on his iPhone.
Indeed it is a new era, and the facility and its interaction with the public is ready for the digital age.  There are hi-def TV’s everywhere and the requisite cell signal and WiFi coverage is excellent.  While touring the facility, it is clear that everything has been thought of.  Nonetheless, it is also evident that “the Boss” does not sail this ship alone.
Team Gural, is an assembly of young, vibrant and savvy harness racing experts and marketing gurus.  For their part, not only have they helped spend over $90,000,000 of Gural and equity partners’  investment capital, but these folks have also helped shape what harness racing will look like in the near, and perhaps, distant future.
CEO and General Manager Jason Settlemoir, who never seems to get tired, stated “We have been working at a very hectic pace over the last year in an effort to be ready.  Our soft openings have been successful, especially with the qualifier preview and the food and beverage services.  Now that we are coming down to the wire, I expect it will be just like a horse race—fast and furious!”
Long-time announcer Ken Warkentin, who has called the last fourteen Hambletonians, exclaimed, “It’s like working at a new track, like a new job.  It’s a new era!”  Seated at the new TV studio with his witty side-kick, Bob “Hollywood” Heyden, the pair could not be more at home.  “I live for nights like this,” recent Hall of Famer Heyden noted.  “You are witnessing something very special.”
Director of simulcasting, Hall of Famer Sam McKee was equally optimistic. “It’s very exciting.  I think it will be a lot like when the Meadowlands first opened, just on a smaller scale.  The old building seated 35,000.  I have read stories where 45,000 tried to get in.  Now, we might seat 5,000.  But, we could have 8 or 10 thousand and it would be the same thing!”
When asked about the most fulfilling part of his job, CEO Settlemoir was quick to answer, “To work with a group of people who are as dedicated as the employees here at Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment.  Past that, it has been refreshing to not only work with these dedicated people, but also to see their passion, and how much they have put their time and energy in to this facility.  They have made sure everything has been thought of, and that no stone has been left unturned.  The horsemen have been great too, they stepped up and filled the box the other day when we needed them.  I am very grateful.”
Post time is 7:15 pm and a free program is available by clicking HERE:
by Chris Tully for
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