By Christine Oser
“Had the Meadowlands closed, there would be no harness racing. It would be dead.”
Jeffrey Gural found a love for harness racing in the 1950’s. While Thoroughbred racing took place during the day, Gural and his friends would head to Roosevelt Raceway after class at night. Gural became more involved with harness racing throughout the years, but his top achievements have not come in winning titles. Cleaning up the sport is what he does best.
Each year, the University of Louisville’s Equine Industry Program honors someone for outstanding entrepreneurship in the equine industry with the John W. Galbreath Award. Gural became the 27th recipient for his efforts in keeping harness racing alive and fighting the drugs in the sport at the Speed Art Museum at the University of Louisville Thursday evening.
“The Galbreath Award recognizes people who have built successful enterprises that serve the industry and act in a positive way to build marketing initiatives that encourage participation in the horse industry by others,” said Equine Industry Program director, Tim Capps. “Jeff Gural’s love of horses and of the game of harness racing has driven his desire to sustain the sport and make it a better place, first for fans, then for participants. He’s a believer in the sport, and has invested a lot of his money and time into making it more vibrant and more deserving of people’s attention.”
Gural grew up in New York where his father, Aaron Gural, worked for a successful real estate company. Thinking he did not want to go into real estate with his father, Gural earned a degree in civil engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before taking a construction job in Los Angeles, California. Gural says he called his wife Paula, then his college sweetheart, and told her, “I got a job. Let’s get married.” Two years later, Gural moved back to New York and was hired as a project manager in construction before winding up in real estate with his father and partners.
What started as a purchase in what Gural called, “old, junky loft buildings” turned into a major success. These buildings became highly desirable 10-15 years ago with concrete floors and exposed ceilings. Gural prefers to buy and hold property, even saying he’s owned a building for 20 years before making a profit from it.
“The richest people in New York are the ones that never sell,” he said. With money coming in from the real estate business, Gural now had the funds to get back to his passion of horses.
While watching the races at Roosevelt Raceway, Gural ran into a co-worker with harness trainer connections and the two ended up claiming a horse together. Gural later purchased two farms in upstate New York to breed and raise Standardbreds. There are now roughly 100 horses on the property.
Gural also used his political connections to lobby for slot machines at the racetracks. His wife asked him, “Why are you lobbying for the industry? You don’t own a track.” Gural then purchased Vernon Downs and Tiago Downs in the southwest portion on New York and managed to bring casinos to both tracks before getting his hands on the run-down Meadowlands in New Jersey.
When asked about how he came into the Meadowlands, Gural said, “Meadowlands really was a fluke.” Just days before the Meadowlands was scheduled to close, Gural scheduled a meeting with Governor Christie’s connections and now has the one-mile harness track cleaned up. Although off-track betting facilities have made it difficult for racetracks to keep attendance up, the large amount of people that come to the Meadowlands for simulcasting helps offset the 90% of their handle that goes elsewhere.
Gural now pursues the use of drugs in the harness racing industry to help clean up the sport. The people who race at the Meadowlands have a signed agreement that their horses’ blood can be tested at any time with Gural’s out-of-competition testing. Gural believes if you’re going to catch the drugs, you can’t tell someone when you’re coming. If he finds any positives, he no longer allows those trainers to race at the Meadowlands.
Gural commented, “I took all of the drug guys and I said, ‘You can’t race here. I’m sorry.'” He even plans to double the amount of money he is spending on out-of-competition testing to further clean up the sport. “Without out-of-competition testing, you cannot solve the problem,” he said.
Gural and his wife have three grown children together and when not cleaning up harness racing or working on real estate, Gural enjoys slipping away from the city life to his farms in upstate New York. His efforts in making a better racing industry are exemplary and need to not only be applauded, but also followed.