Some highlights from the great sport
by John Furgele, Harness Racing 228
Yonkers Raceway is back in business for 2020. The track, which took its annual 17-day break kicked off its 2020 season on Mon. Jan. 6, its first full-season under its new owners, MGM Resorts.
MGM Resorts bought the venerable track from the Rooney family, which had owned it since 1972. 2019 was what we would call a transition year and now, things will have an MGM stamp.
One thing the track won’t do is race less. There was some speculation about that, but in 2020, Yonkers will offer 237 racing dates; comfort food for racing fans. The track will race primarily on Monday-Tuesday and then Thursday-Saturday.
The $1 million International Trot, which many thought would not be on this year’s schedule is back and will be run on Sat. Sept. 12 in conjunction with the finals of the New York State Sires Stakes, making for a huge day of racing at Old Hilltop.
One thing Yonkers would like to see is more handle. We all know that the track offers the sports’ highest overnight purses, but handle per race never reaches $100,000. Maybe that’s because of the half-mile, and those slow second quarters, but the track does have a roster of quality horses and despite the laments, the racing is fair.
There was no open on last night’s card, but there were two huge upsets. In Race 9, Uncle Leo trotted home in 1:56.1 at odds of 30-1 to pay $68 for the win; and in Race 10, The Charging Moa rallied from fifth in the stretch to pace home in 1:53.1 at odds of 60-1. He rewarded supporters with $122 for a $2 plunk down.
The Open Trot returns tonite with six contestants. The field is solid with Will Take Charge and Obrigado the headliners. The latter returned to racing in late 2019, but hasn’t had much success yet. Here’s hoping the millionaire can get things going this year as it’s always nice to see the veterans continuing to battle.
Next Friday, the fillies and mares open pace returns and on Saturday, there will be both an open pace and open trot for the boys. All the opens are currently running for $40,000.
Tonite’s Yonkers card has $271,000 in total purses for its 10 races and because we like to compare, tonite’s Meadowlands card offers 14 races and total purses of $217,875.
Saratoga Casino Hotel released its 2020 schedule and the “track up north,” will offer 168 racing days. Like last year, both Wednesday and Thursdays will be matinees with 12 Noon posts.
SCH opens its season on Sunday, Feb 16 and will run to December 12. For the most part, they will run afternoons on Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The new wrinkle this year is a Saturday evening post time of 5 pm ET.
The track, as always, adjusts its schedule when the thoroughbred meet is contested across the street. The thoroughbreds begin on Thursday, July 11 and stay through Labor Day. When that happens, SCH will race Tuesday-Wednesday and Friday-Saturday and post times will be 7:05 pm. Saratoga Race Course, which altered its schedule last year will be dark on Mondays and Tuesdays again in 2020.
It hasn’t been officially announced, but the track’s signature event, the Joe Gerrity Memorial Pace should be run on Saturday, July 18. In 2019, the pace offered a purse of $260,000 and was won by the now-retired McWicked.
Miami Valley in Ohio is open for business as well. The meet saw big crowds and opening day record handle and tonite’s open pace features eight “runners,” and a $24,000 purse. Ohio harness racing—with Northfield running all year and Miami, Scioto and Dayton splitting—continues to thrive. Tonite’s Miami Valley card features 14 races and 129 horses; that’s an average of 9.2 on the 5/8 mile track.
Finally, today’s Preferred Handicap Pace at Freehold has a full field of eight for $12,000. One of the horses is named Bullet Bob and if you’re a harness racing fan, the sport lost one of its great voices on Thursday when “Bullet” Bob Meyer passed away at the age of 80. Known for his staccato style, Meyer always announced the winner as “in front,” and on Thursday evening, Yonkers announcer John Hernan called Race 1 the same way in tribute to the man who called races at Monticello, Roosevelt, Yonkers and Saratoga for decades.
The original Bullet Bob has left us; maybe the horse version can win one today at Freehold.