There are 94 pari-mutuel harness tracks in the U.S. and Canada—places where all kinds of money can be won or lost—but there is only one money machine, and that is the Meadowlands, situated just across the Hudson River from New York City. The track opened on Sept. 1, 1976, and at the time a lot of industry insiders were sure it would fail. Instead, it has been a thundering success. The impact of the Meadowlands—big purses, big attendance and big handle—has been felt by tracks all across the country. Prices paid for horses have soared, and the whole sport has been jumping since The Machine got cranking. A distinct new breed of owners has emerged—men and women who spend big money on horses, which race to win big money at the Meadowlands, which excites the bettors and encourages the wagering of even more money, which allows purses to be raised, which lures more new breed owners to the Meadowlands...and so on. Where have you gone, E. Roland Harriman?
What mainly distinguishes the new breed from the old—the sprinkling of aristocrats, the masters and mistresses of the influential breeding farms, the driver-trainer movers and shakers of the Del Miller stripe—is this: the new breed cares a whole lot about winning a whole lot of money toot sweet.
Take Ed and Jeanette Freidberg of Far Hills, N.J. When they got into the business in the pre-Meadowlands' days of 1974, they went 10 months and were on their third horse before they won their first race. Jeanette was appalled that it took so long. "Ed has always had such great luck that I figured he'd be lucky in this," she says.
Turns out he is. In little more than two years of racing at the Meadowlands, the Freidbergs have won more than $800,000; they are considered the most successful new breed owners at the track. Still, Ed insists, "With a little competence, there's not that great amount of luck involved."
Ed Freidberg is a 43-year-old attorney who specializes in malpractice suits. Indeed, he has represented the plaintiffs in 40 malpractice suits against a single Sacramento (Calif.) physician. To date Freidberg's clients have collected more than $11 million from the man—of which Freidberg himself has reportedly received some $4 to $5 million in fees. Not bad considering that at one time he told an insurance company that he would not file any more suits against the doctor if it settled five of the cases for $1 million.
Until last month the Freidbergs lived in Sacramento and commuted to the Meadowlands. Now that they are domiciled but a canter away from the track, Ed commutes weekly to Sacramento to look after his law practice.
The Freidbergs are perfectly willing to take big risks with the money they have accumulated in order to put a little zest in their lives. "Six or seven years ago, there was a lull in my life," Ed says. "I thought, 'Why should I make more? What purpose is there?' We owned a lot of real estate but it gave me no pleasure to drive past a building and say, 'I own that.' Money became a burden. Then we got into horses. Now I want to make more money at law so I can buy more horses. It's like playing Monopoly all the time, only with real money. It's all pleasurable. And if more people realized what a deal it could be, oh, my."
"This is instant thrill," says Jeanette. "We're not afraid to put our money where our mouth is."
Ed agrees, but with a cautionary word. "I'm not interested in just throwing money away," he says. "Anybody can lose money. I'm spending it on horses because suddenly, with the Meadowlands, it's a sensible investment. I have good judgment as a lawyer, so why wouldn't I have it on horses?" It never bothers this member of the new breed that a few years ago he didn't know the difference between a harness race and a relay race.
Besides the prospect of making money, racing provides excitement. "If they didn't have winner's circle pictures, we wouldn't be in the business," Ed says. He says that in the rush to their first winner's circle, Jeanette "knocked this old man off the escalator." She says, "I only gave him a little encouragement to move along."