Remember the tune that began, "I'll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, too . . .?"
Sonny Werblin knows it well. He once headed MCA, the talent rich Music Corporation of America. More recently, he has been over here in the Meadows, in charge of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
Werblin has done quite a job for New Jersey, on New York.
First, he took thousands of bettors away from Yonkers and Roosevelt raceways. The Meadowlands harness meeting averaged 17,606 and $1,870,690 this year. Yonkers' business dropped 46 per cent; Roosevelt's 30 per cent.
Next came the football Giants, into the new 76,800-seat stadium at the complex. They were followed by The Cosmos, with Pele, playing before packed houses.
College football is successful here. The NFL's Jets play exhibition games in the Giants' stadium. The New York Nets of the National Basketball Association also have left the Big Town for here, eventually, after a two-year dribble at Rutgers, Werblin's alma mater. Plans are to be announced this month for the Meadows' third sporting palace, a 20,000-seat arena that could also accommodate ice hockey, tennis and most of the other games people play.
Tonight, however, the situation began to get serious. Meadowlands, located four miles west of the Lincoln Tunnel, opened its night thoroughbred meeting. There are those who believe Belmont Park and Aqueduct will never be the same.
"This is war, involving what has been for a century the very heart of major racing," Kent Hollingsworth wrote in The Blood-Horse, a very establishment-type trade magazine dedicated to what is best for the nation's thoroughbred owners and breeders.
"First-class racing will not just shift from New York and reappear, glowing, in the darkness of New Jersey," Hollingsworth warned. "It will just disappear from the East Coast."
That could happen, but it shouldn't. Everything depends on how the New York Racing Association responds to the new competition, and so far the NYRA has reacted surprisingly well, with a media blitz designed to let the public know that Belmont Park exists.
Belmont runs in the afternoon. The Meadowlands runs at night. Certainly there is room in this megalopolis for two such set tracks. Meadowlands' flat meeting will be a scintillating success. Belmont should not suffer too badly if its management is willing to compete. New York, after all, still has the horses everyone wants to attract.
"We're not after the New York horses. We just want some of the New York players," a Meadowlands official said today. "I would think the entire area's awareness of racing has increased considerably by our presence and by New York's reaction to us."
Werblin recently announced plans for a $200,000 horse hospital and swimming pool on the backstretch. Dining facilities on the top floor of the four-story grandstand also are to be expanded.
While they are at it, Meadowlands' management would do well to improve and increase their facilities for stable help. There are not enough on track living accommodations for the grooms, exercise boys and hot-walkers, and there people have found living and eating off-track in this area to be frightfully expensive.
Meadowlands figures to give 4.8 per cent of its mutuel handle to purses, which means it will be almost on a par with Belmont. Its stakes schedule is loaded with $100,000 events. The opening-night program, in addition to offering the $100,000 Paterson Handicap, also featured a pair of $25,000 allowance events.
Don't look for the thoroughbred world's national championships to be decided here this fall, amid the neon, over the mile main strip or the seven-furlong turf course. The title contenders will stay in New York, although many of the famous stables undoubtedly will send a top stakes horse or two here from time to time.
It will be interesting to follow the impact Meadowlands makes on Belmont and Aqueduct. Two things are for sure: (1) The NYRA is running scared, which is good for the sport, and (2) investors in this state-operated adventure never dreamed what a wonderful gamble they had made when they, however reticently, bought their 30-year bonds. The authority's bonds once sold as low as $64. Noa they are at $109, paying 7 per cent tax-free for about a 12 per cent return, tax-free.
Jersey's jumplin'. And the old Jersey bounce, with the rhythm that really counts, has New York singin' the blues.