The Meadowlands Pace is here
by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
In my last column, I spoke of how the sport of Harness racing needs the Meadowlands to continue its relevance going forward. This Saturday provides the evidence as to why this is so. With the Hambletonian about three weeks away, The Big M is getting ready with an outstanding night of races. In all, there are 13 races on the card; nine of which have purses of over $100,000. Some of the Saturday races serve as preps for the Hambo and Hambo Oaks while others are just big-money races designed to attract the best trotters and pacers in North America.
Last year, Marion Marauder won the Trotting Triple Crown and unlike many great horses and for other reasons too, his Canadian owners did not retire him. He will race in the $458,750 Hambletonian Maturity. He showed his class last week in a win at The Big M and will be the betting favorite in the Maturity. With more than 10 in the race, the distance will be 1 1/8 miles, which only adds to the intrigue. MM won the Graduate last week in 1:51.2 and won easily, so he looks ready and raring to go Saturday. The field is solid but not spectacular; could Trolley be a threat? Other than him, I don’t see anybody stopping Marion Marauder in this one. And, the best thing is that we as fans get to see a champion horse race past the age of three and thus far, Marion Marauder has not disappointed.
The other $400,000 plus race is the William Haughton Memorial, also at 1 1/8 miles. This race lacks a superstar, but from top to bottom provides a very solid field. If you’re a fan of horses that always try but don’t win, you have to root for Boston Red Rocks. He finishes second all the time, including last week at the Meadowlands. Earlier this year he finished second at Mohawk to Dr. J Hanover and all the “Doctor” did was race the fastest mile on Canadian soil in 1:46.4. And, it wasn’t easy as Boston Red Rocks was right there on his heels. “Rocks” has earned over $156,000 this year in his nine starts which show zero wins, five places and two shows. Saturday could be his night to finally get into the win column, but he will have formidable foes for sure.
All Bets Off, Lyons Snyder, Rock N Roll World, Bettor’s Edge, Clear Vision, Dealt A Winner, Rockeyed Optimist, Check Six and Mel Mara have all paced sub 1:50 miles this year; if the track is right, look out as the winning time could dip under 1:48.
The Meadowlands Pace is the feature. It is the scheduled for a 9:40 pm start time and will be broadcast live on SNY, the home for New York sports. Huntsville is the morning line favorite and he will be the one that the wise guys will try to beat. Who can beat him? For starters, Talent Soup could; last week he romped in 1:48.4 over the Big M track and looked like he had plenty left in the tank. The rest of the field is very good and features Downbytheseaside, which to me is the only other threat if everybody brings their A game. The pace is not really a prep for the Pacing Triple Crown, but it is restricted for three-year-olds. The Pacing Triple Crown is comprised of the Cane Pace, the Messenger Stakes and the Little Brown Jug with the Cane Pace kicking things off on Hambletionian Day.
Last year, Pace Day drew over 10,000 to the Big M and handled (all sources) over $4.2 million. The attendance record of $42,612 will not be threatened, but today, the handle is bigger because of the easy access people have to wagering. In today’s Harness racing world it is better to have an HD stream than it is to have freshly painted seats in the grandstand. Most people watch Harness racing to make some money and the better the online product is, the more they will watch and wager. While tracks often lament over ways to get people to come to the track, they should be grateful that we—and they—live in an era that we do. In the old days, you had to go to the track or go to a simulcast center; now, you watch and bet on your phone. I don’t know what’s more frustrating to the modern Harness racing fan—lack of live tellers at the track or a grainy picture on your computer or phone?
Tracks like Yonkers and the Meadowlands have stellar online production with HD and clear views of the track. On the other hand, the grain can still be seen by Saratoga Casino Hotel’s production. In today’s world, that really is unacceptable. Most tracks have a variety of ways to view their product. At places like Yonkers and the Meadowlands, you can watch off of their website; for the others you go through your betting portal like Twin Spires, Capital OTB, Interbets or TVG. I subscribe to a bunch just in case one is on the fritz. For tracks like Freehold, which offer simulcasting when there is no live racing, one wonders how much longer that can last. We know that Harness Racing skews to older men and we all assume that these guys never touch a computer, but eventually they will or sadly, will die. When this happens, will anybody drive to Freehold in July to watch and bet on races when they can do it from the Smartphone?
I am getting off point here; the point is Saturday will be a great day for Harness racing. We all know that Thoroughbred racing gets more attention, but how many cards at thoroughbred tracks are this good on a big day? We know that Churchill Downs will load up stakes races on Derby Day, but what about Stephen Foster Handicap day? Theirs is no way those cards are better than what you will get this Saturday or on August 5 on Hambletonian Day—not in any way, shape or form.
Saturday is one of racing’s big days—Meadowlands Pace Day and here’s hoping that the races live up to the hype.