Three Strikes And You’re In

Positive news from New Jersey, Massachusetts and Ohio

by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228

Three good things happened this week in Harness Racing.  The first good news came out of New Jersey when the New Jersey State Legislature passed the purse subsidy bill that will give horse racing $100 million over five years to boost its purses.  The money will be $20 million over the five years with $10 million going to Monmouth Park, $6 million to the Meadowlands, $1.6 million to Freehold and $1.8 million to boost state breeding programs.  The bill needs to be signed off by Governor Phil Murphy, a fan of horse racing and should be done soon.

As we know, New Jersey horse racing does not get any casino revenue, while all of its neighboring states—New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware—do. If you take that $6 million for the Meadowlands, that could boost total purses close to $79,000 on a nightly basis. I’m not sure how the Meadowlands will use the monies, but $79,000 over 14 races is roughly $5,642 per race.  I’m sure the preferred paces and trots will see a decent increase.  Currently, those races have $21,000 purses while Yonkers runs theirs for $44,000.  Freehold has an extra $21,052 to play with.  The hope is that this subsidy will keep horses in the Garden State when the Pennsylvania tracks open in March.

The next bit of good news came when Plainridge Park announced that it is bringing back the $250,000 Spirit of Massachusetts Trot after a one year absence.  The race was first contested in 2017 and won by 60 to 1 longshot JL Cruze.  It was cancelled last year after the track and its horsemen could not agree on terms.  Plainridge offers some good racing, but the Mass Trot was its only marquee race that garnered attention from the outside.  In addition to the Mass Trot, there will also be a $100,000 Clara Barton Pace for fillies and mares.  The big day is set for Sunday, July 28; six days before Hambletonian Day.  The races will be run by the Hambletonian Society and nominations—and payments—are being taken.

Next up is news from Ohio where Northfield Park announced that its big three races—the Cleveland Trotting Classic (Open Trot), the Battle of Lake Erie (Open Pace) and the Carl Milstein Memorial will be “invitation-only,” races in 2019.  The Milstein had already been by invitation, but now, all three will be.

What’s the advantage of this?  In this case, the track gets to send out invitations to whom they think are the best horses out there.  Previously, horses had to be nominated, pay for that as well entry, but now there will be no nominations or entries.  The track can make the calls and get the horses that they want.  They may have to make 25 calls to get 8 horses, but with no nominations, a late bloomer could be invited without having to pay the dreaded supplemental fee.

The Battle of Lake Erie is scheduled for June 8; the Cleveland Trotting Classic goes on June 29 with the Milstein slated for August 10.  The races have purses of $200,000, $175,000 and $400,000 respectively.

Harness racing fans tend to be a bit surly and negative.  From takeout to post drags, there is always something to moan and groan about.  I’m thinking these are three positives for the sport that even the harshest skeptic has to like.

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