Thursday, July 20, 2023

It wasn’t late December back in ’63, but just last Saturday (July 15) when Meadowlands management, fans and horsemen might have been heard singing “Oh, What a Night.”

Meadowlands Pace Night 2023 was filled with tremendous action from start to finish – both on the track and at the windows – and during a 14-race card where favorites failed 79 percent of the time, two public choices turned in what were arguably the most impressive performances of the night.

First up was Sylvia Hanover, whose parked-out-at-every-call masterpiece in the $169,000 Mistletoe Shalee for 3-year-old fillies on the pace gave the daughter of Always B Miki-Shyaway her 12th win from 13 career starts.

“What a Lady, what a night”

The Mark Steacy-trained, Bob McClure-driven miss, who returned $3.00 to win as the 1-2 favorite, did this in what was her first start ever outside of Woodbine Mohawk Park, and, after a three-week layoff as well, since her score in the Fan Hanover at her home track in Campbellville, Ontario.

In the $668,000 featured Meadowlands Pace for 3-year-olds, Confederate delivered as an equally heavy public choice as his sister-event counterpart, stopping the teletimer in a lifetime-best 1:47 after powering up to the lead coverless around the far turn, before sprinting clear of his foes by 3½ lengths. Did winning driver Tim Tetrick say: “I felt a rush like a rollin’ ball of thunder”? It’s unclear.

The win gave trainer Brett Pelling a record-extending fifth Big M Pace victory while Tetrick added a sixth Pace trophy to his mantle, meaning he is now just one behind John Campbell, whose seven Pace wins are still tops among drivers.

The evening also saw a pair of heavily favored 1-5 shots from the Ake Svanstedt stable taste defeat for the first time in a long time, as Bond finished third in one of two divisions of the $105,250 Del Miller Memorial for 3-year-old trotting fillies, ending her winning streak at nine, while Jiggy Jog S failed in her bid for a ninth straight score after getting gunned down by M-M’s Dream in the $410,250 E.T. Gerry Jr. Hambletonian Maturity.

“We had great performances all night long on Meadowlands Pace Night,” said track Chief Operating Officer and General Manager Jason Settlemoir. “Exciting racing, full fields and unpredictable finishes led to a tremendous night of business.”

All-source wagering on the 14-race card totaled $5,672,535, the biggest number on Pace Night in 17 years, when wagering was just over $6 million in 2006.

Since 2009, only twice has betting busted the $5-million barrier, the other being 2020, when $5,051,261 was put in play.

The $5.6 million wagered Pace Night was an industry 2023 best and represented a 20 percent increase over a year ago, when just over $4.7 million in action was taken.

Adding a third 50-cent Pick-4 to the betting menu proved to be a smart move, as the three Pick-4s took in action of just over $450,000, with the All-Stakes P4, featuring The Meadowlands Pace as the payoff leg, took in $180,638.

“What happened on Saturday was the result of many factors coming together,” said Settlemoir. “Gov. (Phil) Murphy and the New Jersey State Legislature’s continued support of the horse racing industry in the Garden State is first and foremost. Handle on The Meadowlands has exploded since the Governor signed the appropriation bill in February of 2019, bringing enormous attention to New Jersey, and vaulting The Big M to become the most popular nighttime signal in North America, regardless of breed.

“Add in the support of our horsemen and top it off with our national telecasts on the networks of Fox Sports and you get a complete picture of how our success has come to pass. We are optimistic that we can keep this momentum through Hambletonian Day (Aug. 5) and beyond.”

THE MARKET IS UP: The $100 million appropriation that Gov. Murphy signed into law in 2019 creates a hard line between levels of action at The Big M.

Betting on the 2018 Meadowlands Pace was $536,305, while Saturday night, the total wager on the race was $821,356. The increase? A whopping 53 percent.

Total action on the 2018 Pace Night card was $4,083,401, so Saturday’s handle represents an uptick of 39 percent.

And what about the races shown live on Fox Sports 1 (FS1)?

The previous editions of the Hambletonian Oaks, Hambletonian and Meadowlands Pace saw a total handle of $1,904,214.

The three most recent Oaks, Hambo and Pace, which were all shown live on the networks of Fox Sports, took in a total of $2,656,317, an increase of 39 percent.

FABULOUS FRESHMEN: Another key to lengthening the Garden State’s harness racing lifeline is the renewed interest in breeding – thanks in part to the appropriation – and action on last Friday’s (July 14) program, when 12 of the 14 dashes were for 2-year-old New Jersey Sire Stakes competitors.

As recently as 2017, the night before the Meadowlands Pace did less than $2 million in total handle. Last week, wagering topped $3 million despite many horses making their first-ever parimutuel starts.

“I can’t begin to tell you what an extraordinary number $3 million on our baby races is,” said Settlemoir. “Gov. Murphy and The N.J. State Legislature helped bring the world to New Jersey. Their efforts made the $8.6 million bet during Pace weekend a reality.”

NATIONAL EXPOSURE: The remaining schedule for when Meadowlands’ races will be shown on either FOX, FS1 or FS2 is as follows (with highlighted races):

  • Saturday, Aug. 5 (FOX, 3-6 p.m.; FS2, 6-7 p.m.; Hambletonian – post time, 4:45 p.m., Hambletonian Oaks plus other stakes for total purses of $3.5 million)
  • Sunday, Aug. 6 (Hambletonian replay show on CBS Sports Network, 2 p.m.)
  • Friday, Sept. 8 (FS1, 9-11 p.m.; New Jersey Classic Series finals)

“All of us at The Meadowlands have been so pleased with the partnership we have with the TV crew at The New York Racing Association (NYRA),” said Settlemoir. “They, along with the team at Fox Sports, put out a first-rate product on a show that is normally seen, in large part, by a Thoroughbred-centric audience. These shows have helped us display our competitive harness races to a fan base who now might be more likely to follow harness racing in addition to the runners.”

HAMBO COUNTDOWN: On Saturday, July 29, the highlighted races on the Big M card will be eliminations for the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks and $1 million Hambletonian. Then, one week later, harness racing’s biggest day of the calendar year takes place on Hambletonian Day, Saturday, Aug. 5, with a special first-race post time of noon.

Doors at The Big M will open at 10 a.m. Hambo Day. There is a $5 admission fee, but it includes a commemorative 98th Hambletonian baseball cap for adults and kids.

There are several options for Hambletonian Day seating and dining:

  • $300 Promenade Table – seats four people and table purchase includes admission
  • $100 Cafe Table – seats four people and $100 is food credit for use at the Cafe (admission not included)
  • Second Floor Lounge Seating – tables of two and four available along with a four-person couch. Purchase is beverage and food credit for Victory (admission not included)

Hambo Day festivities include live music in the Backyard, carnival rides and games throughout the Backyard, a Hambo Hat Contest (sign-up between 10 a.m.-1 p.m. in the Clubhouse Lobby) featuring prizes from $50-$500, a FanZone Tent with free swag giveaways all day and a driver and trainer autograph session from 10:30 a.m.-noon.

In addition, there will be food trucks doling out delicious eats all day long, with House of Cupcakes, Clyde’s Italian Ice and Ice Cream, Latin Bites, Chick Wings and Things, Cat Like Reflexes,  Beared One BBQ, Antojitos de mi Teirra and Hadez Food Truck among those expected to be on hand.

IMPRESSIVE STAKES MENU: While you enjoy your food, feast on these stakes events that will take place (purses are estimated) during the card: the $1-million Hambletonian, $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, $300,000 John Cashman Memorial, $275,000 Cane Pace, $275,000 Sam McKee Memorial, $175,000 Lady Liberty, $175,000 John R. Steele and $90,000 Shady Daisy.

DON’T PAY: Free past performances for every race of every Meadowlands card are available by going to playmeadowlands.com.

TWEET US: Everything Meadowlands is available by going on Twitter. You can check in with the Big M team for early changes, racing information and staff selections by going to @themeadowlands or #playbigm.

On race nights, stay in touch with The Big M team of Jessica Otten (@JessicaOtten1), Dave Little (@DaveLittleBigM), Ken Warkentin (@kenvoiceover), Edison Hatter (@Edison_1999_) and Gabe Prewitt (@gabe_prewitt).

THE SENSATIONAL SEVEN: These are the seven wagers The Big M offers nightly to the bettor that offer both a low minimum wager as well as a low 15 percent takeout. In addition, the two Pick-4s offer a guaranteed pool of $50,000.

The list:

  • Race 1: 20-cent Pick-5
  • Race 3: 20-cent Survivor Pick-7
  • Race 6: Early 50-cent Pick-4 ($50,000 guaranteed pool)
  • Race 7: Early 10-cent Hi-5
  • Race 8: 20-cent Pick-6
  • Race 10: Late 50-cent Pick-4 ($50,000 guaranteed pool)
  • Race 14: Late 10-cent Hi-5

HATTER’S RACE REVIEWS: Race reviews and selections by The Meadowlands’ morning-line odds maker, program analyst and TV talent Hatter are available 48 hours before a given race card. To access this valuable information from one of the brightest young minds in the sport, simply go to playmeadowlands.com, go to the “handicapping” tab, then click “race reviews”.

HORSEPLAY GIVEAWAY: Would you like to win a car?

Then come to The Meadowlands every live racing night for the “Horseplay Car Giveaway”, where the grand prize is a 2023 Toyota Camry.

Patrons will toss small rubber horses into a moving car along the fence at the track after the replay of race six, and those whose horses make it into the vehicle have a chance to drive it home. The winner will be announced on Friday, Aug. 4.

For every horse that makes it into the Horseplay car, Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment will donate $5 to a designated monthly charity.

The May recipient was Helping Horseshoe, June’s was Spectrum 360 while the July/August donation will go to HOPES. An additional $5 for every horse that makes it into the car will also be donated to the Purple Haze Standardbred Adoption Program by The Meadowlands.

For complete information and giveaway rules, go to https://playmeadowlands.com/event/2023-horseplay-toyota-giveaway/2023-05-05/

IT’S A PARTY: Come out to the track on Friday (July 21) for Columbia’s Independence Day Party!

Enjoy the best Latin music and drinks as you dance the night away on our stunning rooftop terrace with New York City skyline views. Featuring DJ Eri and DJ Flaco.

The party takes place on the Rooftop from 6-11 p.m., this, and every, Friday night.

A PERUVIAN DELIGHT: On Saturday (July 22), head to Pink Restaurant for a fabulous six-course cocktail dinner, where Peruvian food will be coupled with Pisco-based cocktails.

The cost is $69.95 per person, and you can make reservations by calling 201-THE-BIGM.

For complete information (and a look at the menu), go to Peruvian 6-Course Cocktail Dinner – Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment :: Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment (playmeadowlands.com)

SEAFOOD FEST: The Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks eliminations take place on Saturday, July 29, and the perfect meal to compliment such good racing can be found at the track’s “Seafood Fest”.

Enjoy fresh and delicious seafood from area food trucks and restaurants from 5-11 p.m. Some other food options include lobster rolls, fried clams, fried fish, grilled shrimp, shrimp tacos, crab fries and more.

Interested in being a vendor?  Email Rachel Ryan raryan@playmeadowlands.com  with your food truck name and menu offerings.  Cost to participate is $100.

Among the food trucks expected to be on hand include Angry Archies (Jersey City-based food truck), Clyde’s Homemade Italian Ice and Ice Cream, Latin Bites, Cat Like Reflexes, Antojitos de mi Tierra, Green Dog Mobile, Rod’s Fish N Chips, The Mozzarella God, DAW Concessions, Magic Mike’s Smoked Meats, The Original Golden Brown and Michael’s Backyard BBQ.

CASINO AND POKER NIGHT: The Hambletonian Charity Casino and Poker Night takes place on Friday, Aug. 4, and is presented by the Standardbred Retirement Foundation and the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame.

There will be a poker tournament, table games, a silent auction and much more. The evening gets underway at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are priced at $125 for a Casino Guest ($150 at the door), and includes dinner, dessert, bar and $50 in casino chips (additional casino chips may be purchased at any time), and $175 for the “Exacta Special” ($200 at the door) which gets one a Casino Guest and a Poker Seat.

The timeline for the night:

  • 6:30 p.m.: Dinner, open bar and casino tables open
  • 7:15 p.m.: Poker tournament (Enter before 7:15 p.m./$150 buy-in = $3,000 in chips to start. Grand Prize: Trip for two to Las Vegas, including hotel and airfare. Second place: $300. Third place: $150.)
  • 9:15 p.m.: Silent auction closes; casino tables close
  • 9:30 p.m.: Bar closes; raffle winners drawn

There are sponsorships available. For more details, go to 2023 Casino Night (adoptahorse.org)

To purchase tickets, go to Hambletonian Charity Casino Night Tickets in East Rutherford, NJ, United States (ticketleap.com)

FANDUEL’S FABULOUS: If you like betting professional sports and would like to get your money down in the No. 1 facility of its type in North America, then head inside the grandstand at The Meadowlands and get your action in the FanDuel Sportsbook.

On Thursday (July 20), the top two teams in the tough American League East will go at it in a 6:40 p.m. start as the Baltimore Orioles travel to Tampa to take on the Rays. Tampa is a -190 favorite in the game that has an over/under of 8 runs.

Whatever the sport, for the latest odds, go to https://www.fanduel.com/sportsbook-meadowlands

The FanDuel Sportsbook is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-1 a.m.; Saturday 8 a.m.-1 a.m.; and Sunday 8 a.m.-midnight. For cash-at-counter customers, the hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m.-11 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m.-11 p.m. The Lounge opens at noon on Sundays.