Yonkers Trot and Messenger Stakes Tonight—Did You Even Know?

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

On August 4, the sports world all knew that it was Hambeltonian Day at The Meadowlands in New Jersey.  On that day, we had three big races—the Hambo, the Hambo Oaks and the Cane Pace.  The latter served as the first leg of the pacing triple crown while the first served as the first leg for the trotting edition.

Tonight, Yonkers Raceway hosts the second legs for both gaits—and does anybody outside of harness racing know this?  Unfortunately, that’s the way it goes in our sport. Those in the know look forward to the big events, and those that might be interested have no idea they’re going on.

The age-old debate of how to market will live on forever because of infighting.  With many tracks receiving gaming subsidies, some think a portion of those subsidies should be used for marketing, while the other side contends that they should be poured into purses which is the current situation.

And, what is marketing? How do you market the sport to the younger generation; a generation hooked on their phones 24/7?  The other day, I toured a college campus with my son and it was not uncommon to see three co-eds walking side-by-side all of them on their phones.  No conversations, no eye contact, no nothing.

But, to be fair, when we asked some co-eds for directions and help, they were conversational;  they made eye contact, were engaging and in one word—delightful.

My point is young people really don’t watch TV and if they do, it is through Hulu, Netflix or some other device.  They binge watch and never watch commercials, so advertising for the Yonkers Trot through traditional means won’t work and that includes the newspaper, which young people don’t know exists.

The Hambo did have the advantage of CBS Sports Network broadcasting it.  I’m not sure how much promotion the network did in leading up to the event, but come Saturday at 4:30, the race was on national television.

Did anybody at Yonkers, the Grand Circuit or the Hambletonian Society approach CBSSN, NBCSN or any other network about televising the event?  Or, did they just assume that because college football is here the networks would have no interest?

Both legs—the Yonkers Trot and the Messenger Stakes—are contested on a half-mile track and because of this; many of the horses that ran in the Hambo and Cane are not here.  Rather than see this as a negative, the broadcasting network could spin it by educating the audience on the difference between the tracks; why some horses love half-mile tracks and others loathe it.

In thoroughbred racing, there is no bigger event than the Kentucky Derby.  But, the Preakness and the Belmont are not ignored. NBC is there, in Baltimore and on Long Island.  When a Triple Crown is on the line, they’re there with more fervor, if not, they are still there.

Harness racing has a good product and the product is better when the big races are contested.  To me, the Yonkers Trot and the Messenger Stakes—both with $500,000 purses—are big races.  Sadly, they’re only big to those who love the sport and know about them.

As for the rest, they know that they can catch Indiana and FIU and then Navy and Hawaii.

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