by Mike Farrell for the Meadowlands Racetrack
The $1.2 million Hambletonian, the richest prize in harness racing,
headlines the 28-day championship Meet at The Meadowlands Racetrack that
begins Friday night.
Now through Aug.3,
The Meadowlands will feature many of the richest and most prestigious stakes in
the sport. The Big M serves up the action on Friday and Saturday nights
starting at 7:15 p.m. with the
exception of an afternoon card on Hambletonian Day, the final program of the
The Meadowlands Pace, the track’s signature race for 3-year-olds, tops the
biggest night of the Championship Meet on July 13.
While the younger stars of the sport shine during the Championship Meet, the
well-established veteran pacers and trotters will share the spotlight as well. They
have new targets this year: the TVG Free For All Championship series throughout
the meet. The lucrative races will award qualifying points toward the inaugural
finals, each worth a guaranteed $500,000, for trotters and pacers on Nov. 30.
The series will also encompass races at other tracks, the Allerage Farms
Trot and Pace at the Red Mile on Oct. 6 and
the Breeders Crown Open Trot and Pace at Pocono Downs on Oct. 19.
There are nine races for each gait and contenders for the November finals
must compete at least five times in the series to qualify. The first of those
nine races will take place on Saturday
for both trotters and pacers. The Meadowlands will also extend an
invitation to the finals to a leading 3-year-old trotter and pacer, giving them
an opportunity to step up and face older rivals with a lucrative pot on the
The emphasis on older horses advances the goal of Meadowlands Chairman Jeff
Gural to keep the sport’s stars racing beyond their 3-year-old campaigns.
“It is vital to keep our stars on the racetrack,” said Meadowlands Racetrack
chairman Jeff Gural. “Given that offspring of stallions retired before
their four year old season are not eligible to race in stakes events at The
Meadowlands, we felt it was necessary to formulate a new free for all series,
recognizing that our stars will be competing longer. This Free For All
series will provide the best racing this industry has seen in decades and will
go a long way to deciding year-end honors, including Horse Of The Year.”
The new series has already sparked positive reaction from horsemen and
“We have seen, especially on the pacing side, massive increases in
nominations to the W.R. Haughton and the U.S. Pacing Championship,” said
director of racing operations Darin Zoccali. “They have virtually doubled.
Those races will be going for more money than they have in some time. All told,
the series will be worth about $4 million.”
The Hambletonian, the world-renowned classic for 3-year-old trotters, tops
the biggest afternoon in harness racing. The stellar card includes the
$500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, the companion event for 3-year-old trotting
fillies; the Peter Haughton Memorial and the Merrie Annabelle for 2-year-old
trotters; the John Cashman for older trotters, the race formerly known as the
Nat Ray; the Lady Liberty for pacing mares; the U.S. Pacing Championship for
older pacers and the two top events for New Jersey breds: the New Jersey
Classic and Miss New Jersey.
The Meadowlands Pace will also be supported by a standout card that includes
the Stanley Dancer Memorial, the last major prep at The Meadowlands for
Hambletonian contenders. The enhanced stakes lineup on Pace night also features
the W. R. Haughton Memorial for Free-For-All pacers, four New Jersey Sires
Stakes championships for 2-year-olds and a pair of stakes for 3-year-old
fillies: the Mistletoe Shalee for pacers and the Del Miller Memorial for
“We must have a Championship Meet that lives up to its name,” said General
Manager Jason Settlemoir. “While the summer months at The Meadowlands
always offers some of the best racing of the year, 2013 provides much more than
that. A revamped Meadowlands Pace Night, choc-full of stakes races, a
loaded Hambletonian Day program, the brand new Free For All Series and
Meadowlands Maturity all will contribute to a lightning fast-paced stakes
season this year at The Meadowlands.”
On a nostalgic note, this will be the final meet in the current Meadowlands
grandstand. The track, which raised harness racing to unprecedented heights
when it opened in 1976, will be replaced by a gleaming new facility currently
under construction along the backstretch.
Opening night for the new era at the New Meadowlands will be Nov. 23.