After a year and a half and $US88 million dollars, the new grandstand at the Meadowlands Racetrack — in the same complex as the home of Superbowl XLVIII — opened in November.
The new grandstand replaces the famous harness racetrack from the 1970s. It’s one-third the size of the old one — a logical move since so much betting takes place off-site these days.
“It feels completely different than the old building,” racetrack chairman Jeff Gural told Business Insider. “The old building was a depressing place. There were large parts that were closed and empty. Now it’s crowded and fun. It has an up feeling.”
Even with lingering mounds of snow on a recent Friday evening, plenty made the trek to East Rutherford for dinner and drinks, if not to bet on one of the 13 races.
There are still VIP betting rooms and an old-school owners’ club done up in dark wood and leather. But for the young professional looking to get out on a Friday night, there’s also a rooftop terrace with stunning views of Manhattan, a sports bar with double-height ceilings and cinema-sized televisions, and a two-tiered prix-fixe dining room that looks straight at the finish line.
Admission to the grandstand is free, and dinner and drinks can be had for $US40 or less. The minimum bet on-site is just $US2.
“When I tell people I own the Meadowlands, the most common thing I hear is, ‘Oh, I used to go there all the time with my father or my girlfriend,'” Gural said. “20 or 30 years ago, the Meadowlands was the place to be on a Saturday night. I’d like it to be that place again.”
Business Insider got a behind-the-scenes tour of the new Meadowlands facility before the start of a recent race.
Here's the new grandstand from the track side. It's sleeker, with more windows than the bulky grandstand that debuted in 1976. NFL organisers currently occupy the old building to prepare for the Super Bowl. After that, it will revert to state ownership while the new grandstand operates privately.
Trotters, the owners' club, is one of the few places in the new grandstand with a classic 'racetrack' look: stuffed leather chairs and horse paraphernalia are everywhere.
If a horse's owners are at the Meadowlands the night their horse wins a race, their next dinner at Trotters is on the house.
A guarded door keeps Trotters exclusive for owners and their guests. The stairs provide easy access to the Winner's Circle by the track.
The racing world is all about exclusivity. Even if you're not an owner, you can rent out one of five private suites for dinner during the evening races.
The new grandstand also has a noise-controlled VIP betting room to allow super-serious bettors the concentration they need.
John Wojtaszek is a walkabout teller. 'I encourage people and explain the intricacies of betting while I take their bets,' Wojtaszek explained.
Guests can also place bets on self-betting machines. There are hundreds all over the building, and they take a minimum bet of $US2.
Victory Sports Bar has a wall of TVs showing horse races across the country. In the spring, the bar will turn into a dance floor. They DJ booth is already constructed.
Races start promptly at 7:15 pm. This is a view of the finish line during the first race from a table at Pink.
Here are the horses lining up to start the second race from the Winner's Circle side of the track. They'll compete even on a snowy night.
I got to present the ceremonial trophy to Yannick Gingras, who drove Celebrity Lovin to victory in 1:57.3 during the second race.
After each race, horses return to the paddock across the track from the finish line to receive a bath.
Joe Bongiorno, a 20-year-old driver, was just about to head to the track for the fourth race of the evening. His father was a horse trainer in the '80s and his sister works in the marketing department of the Meadowlands. Harness horse racing runs in the family for most of the teams.
Ken Warkentin, a Meadowlands announcer for 24 years, called out what happened in the fourth race. He said Bongiorno was close to placing, but he hesitated at the end.
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