In time, the company will control Northfield Park and Yonkers Raceway
by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
Any news of MGM Resorts coming into Yonkers and making serious changes to harness racing has been put to bed for at least the next three years as the current contract with SOA of New York was extended through May, 2021. The current agreement was set to expire next May.
Last month, the Rooney family, which had owned Yonkers Raceway/Empire City Casino for years, sold the properties to MGM Resorts. Before the purchase, stories swirled of closing Yonkers, moving it to Belmont and many things in between. For now, the track “with the highest overnight purses,” will churn like it has been.
There are many who dislike racing at Yonkers and that shows in their handle. Although handle has increased under new racing director Cammie Haughton, tracks like Monticello and Northfield continue to be right at or above the figures that Yonkers handles.
Personally, I like the racing at Yonkers. Yes, it’s a half-mile track and that alone accounts for some of the issues. It’s tough to win from post seven and eight; they don’t race two-wide like they do at other tracks kike Monticello and sometimes, it appears that some drivers take races off, but all-in-all, the racing is solid. Yonkers does remain the king of slow second quarters and that is the very reason why you don’t see horses breaking 1:50 like we see at Northfield Park, which also sports a half-mile oval.
The size of the Yonkers oval has fueled talk of creating a Yonkers at Belmont. We know that the New York Islanders are moving to the Belmont grounds and there has been talk of creating a one mile racing oval on the fabled grounds. To be fair, this is mere speculation. SOA of New York endorses the idea—or at the very least, exploring it—but we have heard nothing from NYRA CEO Chris Kay or anybody from NYRA for that matter.
MGM Resorts would be wise to invest in its harness racing product. To say that nobody cares about harness racing is wrong. Yonkers usually handles over $500,000 on race nights and there have been occasions when handle has cracked the $1 million mark. The race track also hosts the Messenger Stakes, the Levy, the Yonkers Trot, the Rooney and the $1 million International Trot. There are many reasons for MGM to promote the harness racing product. We know people love their electronic slots, but would it hurt these patrons to come on out and watch at least one harness racing on a given night?
MGM Resorts recently made their purchase of Northfield Park in Ohio official on July 6. Like Yonkers, Northfield features a half-mile racing oval and like Yonkers races 12 months per year with over 220 cards. And, because both tracks race at night, I’m sure there will be some special promotions to lure horse players into the mix. The Milstein family had owned Northfield for years, but like the Rooneys, it looks like the families are clearing out to make way for the professional casino operators.
Now that the United State Supreme Court has paved the way for states to offer sports books and sports betting, companies like MGM Resorts are poised to jump in on the action, while the Rooneys and Milsteins decided to sell off and enjoy time away from the gambling grind.
It remains to be seen if Ohio and New York will pass legislation that allow sports books and it also remains to be seen if places like Yonkers and Northfield want in, but it would surprise no one if the day comes when one can come to Yonkers/Northfield bet the daily double, play some poker and roulette and wager on the World Series.