Lots going on in Harness Racing
by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
It’s official. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has signed off on the purse subsidy that will provide $100 million over the next five years to Monmouth, Freehold, The Meadowlands and New Jersey breeding. The question will be how the tracks use the purse money. We can gather that it will go into the overnights, but how much will remain to be seen. We have done the very rough math before; $6 million over 76 racing days would allow The Meadowlands to bolster daily purses by about $79,000, but it will be more than that when you take out stakes days and the like. The passage comes at the right time with the Pennsylvania tracks readying for their March openings and their usual raid of Meadowlands horses. More money could stem the tide.
We shouldn’t neglect Freehold as $1.6 million could see daily purses boosted by $21,000. When we think New Jersey harness racing, The Meadowlands is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but we should never forget about the grinders at the nation’s oldest daytime harness track.
As we know, January and February are the dog days of harness racing, but with the spring coming, many of the sport’s top horses will be making their season debuts and before long, stakes season will be here. It’s always good to read and hear of the Matchmaker, Petticoat, and Levy, and even better to hear that the Spirit of Massachusetts Trot will be back after a one year absence. The inaugural 2017 edition was a splendid affair, capped by JL Cruze prevailing at 60-1 odds.
Sunday is opening day at Saratoga Casino Hotel. Day 1 features 12 races and $72,700 in purses. The feature race is the $12,000 Open Trot with six horses entered. All 12 races are trots and that has been the theme in recent years at SCH—all trot cards on Sunday. The track is trying something different in 2019. They will be dark most Fridays and both Wednesday and Thursday will be matinees. The track gets a nice handle on Thursday afternoon, so they are thinking why not double it up by adding Wednesday. It will be interesting to see what effect this will have on Monticello, which races afternoons Monday thru Thursday. The marquee race at SCH is the $260,000 (or more) Gerrity Memorial Pace slated for Saturday, July 20.
Speaking of Saratoga, the thoroughbred track also changed things up by moving up its 2019 start from Friday, July 19 to Thursday, July 11. They will still run 40 days, but will be dark twice each week instead of once. We will see if the 5 days over 8 weekends is better than 6 over 7. It did impact the harness racing schedule at SCH because NYRA took forever to finalize its’19 days. That said SCH is scheduled to run a robust 168 days this year. There was some talk of moving Saturday racing to the afternoons, but that won’t happen—at least this year.
The New York Sire Stakes schedule is also out. All seven harness tracks will be involved and the important date is Saturday, September 14, when the finals will be contested at Batavia Downs. The consolations are set for the next day at Vernon. Three-year old filly trotters will kick it all off on Tuesday, May 7 at Yonkers.
The Excelsior Series also showcases the best in New York breeding. The Excelsior finals will be held on Saturday, September 21 at Saratoga Casino Hotel.
The complete schedule can be found here.
The 2 and 3 year olds will once again have to be versatile as they will race on half-mile tracks at Yonkers, Saratoga, Buffalo, Batavia and Monticello; a 5/8 mile track at Tioga and the 7/8 mile surface at Vernon. While the latter two haven’t officially released their racing schedules, it is safe to say that Vernon will begin around April 20 while Tioga should debut on Kentucky Derby Day; the first Saturday in May.