by John Furgele
This is my exciting new site. We will cover harness racing as best as we can. Many think of harness racing as the lesser of horse racing and perhaps that’s true. It is not the Sport of Kings like thoroughbred racing is and its Triple Crown winners will never grace the cover of Time Magazine like Secretariat did, nor will they be on the cover of Sports Illustrated like American Pharoah was.
Pacers and trotters do not run as fast as their thoroughbred counterparts but they run more often. Pacers are faster but the biggest race on the harness calendar is The Hambletonian, which is for 3-year old trotters, and is run on the first Saturday in August at The Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, NJ.
Harness racing almost died. In the 1940s and 50s, harness racing was a big deal. Many small towns had tracks so on a Saturday night, crowds of 25,000 to 40,000 were common. Then, a thing called television became standard in most households and harness racing began to struggle. In the 1990s, many tracks either closed, lost millions and offered paltry purses. Places like Yonkers Raceway began taking offers for its land.
The sport was saved by America’s insatiable appetite for gambling. Harness tracks partnered up with gaming companies and because of quirky state laws, facilities with video gaming machines (VGMs) were built on harness track sites. It was a win-win. People came to play the VGMs and the track got a cut of the revenues. It didn’t matter if 10 people were betting on races and 90 were in the gaming parlors, the harness racing industry got enough money to survive. Suddenly, places like Yonkers, Saratoga, Tioga and Monticello were spared the wrecking ball and began making money.
If you visit ustrotting.com, you will find the tracks that offer harness racing and at just about every track, there is a casino that offers some form of gambling. In New York, there are no table games at the harness tracks, just thousands of VGMs for people to make a killing.
Harness Racing 228 will focus on the big races throughout the country, but will really key in on New York State. The Empire State has seven harness tracks while the state offers thoroughbred racing at two–Finger Lakes and the NYRA tracks (Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga). The Meadowlands still offers big races and still has the one mile oval that most tracks do not. Let’s take a look at the harness tracks in New York and when they operate.
Buffalo Raceway: January through July
Batavia Downs: July through December (they and Buffalo Raceway operate together).
Vernon Downs: April through November
Tioga Downs: May through September
Saratoga Casino: February through December
Monticello: January through December
Yonkers: January through December
Both Monticello and Yonkers operate all year with Yonkers running about 240 cards and Monticello, 207. Monticello is the afternoon track with post times ranging from 12:25 to 1:00 depending on time of year. Monticello does not run races on Saturday and Sunday, but often gets a better handle than the other tracks who do most of their running at night. There are some Friday cards, but they are quite limited.
Yonkers will offer some trotting races at 1 1/4 miles which is rare as most races are contested at 1 mile.
There are plenty of harness racing sites out there, but I promise to take a different angle on this one. If you’re looking for handicapping expertise, this might not be the site for you, but if you look at harness racing as sport, then perhaps that is where I can come in and give you some insights.
2016 was a great year for harness racing. The sport is seeing an increase in attendance and even though overall handle was down, it was down only slightly from 2015. Marion Marauder became the first horse to win the Trotting Triple Crown since Glidemaster in 2006 and the pacing side saw Always B Miki and Wiggle It JiggleIt battle each other all year, with Always B Miki winning the final race of his career at the TVG Final in November at The Meadowlands.
You’ll see the stars more in harness racing. The differences between standardbreds and thoroughbreds allow the pacers and trotters to race much more frequently with some racing once a week or at least three times per month. And, some horses become crowd favorites because they will race at least once a week at their home track. Last year, Wiggle It Jiggleit made 24 starts, with 15 wins, 7 places and 2 shows and $1.7 million in earnings. The now retired Always B Miki had 18 starts, with 12 wins, and 5 places to go along with $1.4 million in earnings.
We are off and running. Enjoy the site and hope to see you at the races! Suggestions are welcome. Please email me at email@example.com