Yesterday was Haskell Day at Monmouth Park and while it is a big event every year, this year they were able to secure the appearance of Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh. Once his appearance was secured, Monmouth's management and staff went into high gear to create a week dedicated to American Pharaoh and the Haskell.
And it paid off, big time. Just to see one morning Pharaoh worked out, 7,000 people showed up just to see the three year old. On Haskell Day, just under 61,000 people showed up to fill the plant and they bet, lustily, Over $6 million on the Haskell itself, over $30 million on the entire card.
What does this show? When marketed and executed properly, big day events pay off handsomely. Now, let's not kid ourselves, 61,000 people, $30 million handles are not going to happen; we can't even get what was bet on the Haskell wagered on a whole card of racing as harness racing has fallen out of favor with the majority of the American public. This is not to say a big day marketed as part of a racing festival can not be lucrative for harness racing. The key is to carve out those special days of racing.
Think of it, the Little Brown Jug by the nature of its short meet is the first track to have a festival of racing and with all the efforts spent towards promoting the Jug, the day is well attended. Unfortunately, at a county fair, the wagering isn't there.
The Meadowlands would be a logical place to have a festival of racing thanks to the presence of the Hambletonian as would Mohawk with the North America Cup. The last two or three weeks of racing is full of stakes races so there is no problem in identifying the races. The question is how to fund and market the event building the excitement up to Hambo Day? Of course, to have a true festival, it would likely be beneficial to have a break in the racing beforehand to help build excitement. The days lost by imposing a break could be added to the two or three week festival so each week had three or four days of racing. There would be a need for cooperation from other tracks to clear the stakes calendar so the best show up which would be reciprocated when the other tracks host their festivals.
It can be done with a willingness from all stakesholders.
Lo and behold, Governor Chris Christie, the person who almost single handily killed off racing in New Jersey managed to make time to show up the Haskell in order to get face time in his almost certainly doomed Presidential campaign. Could the Governor make a presence at the Hambletonian? Probably not. He hasn't shown up yet so there is no need to start now. After all why should the Governor who almost put the Meadowlands under the wrecking ball be welcomed? Sadly, being harness racing, it is likely Christie's political advisers wouldn't deem the Hambletonian high-profile enough to make an appearance. It should be the goal of racing to make the Hambo big enough that the politicians will want to be seen at the event.