The final numbers aren’t quite in yet, but already we know that the betting handle for the Aug. 6 Hambletonian Day of racing at the Meadowlands Racetrack — the biggest day each year in the world of harness racing — was way up from 2021.
Track officials say that after “a steady diet of $5 million to $6.5 million” Hambo Day handles over the past decade, including $5.7 million in COVID-impacted 2020 and $6.5 million in 2021, wagering jumped to $7.7 million even before the European wagering numbers are added. A track spokesperson told US Bets on Monday that the latter wagering figures may not be finalized for a few weeks. But the belief internally is that there is “an excellent chance the grand total will reach over $9 million once those figures are included.”
That mark only has been achieved once in nearly a century of Hambletonian Day racing, occurring when worldwide wagering in 2005 totaled $9,015,019.
This year’s card consisted of 16 races for a robust $3.5 million in purse money, before a crowd estimated at over 15,000 (the $5 admission came with a free baseball cap).
Handle on the Hambletonian race itself — won by 54/1 longshot Cool Papa Bell — was just shy of $1 million, while the Hambletonian Oaks for fillies was $855,337. That latter figure is 56% higher than the amount bet on the Oaks in 2021.
The $1.1 million bet on the main race in 2021 was the most in more than a decade, while this year’s betting clearly was spread out more evenly among the races on the card.
FOX Sports channels expanded coverage
Hambletonian Day coincided with the running of the Whitney Stakes, a highlight of the Saratoga Springs thoroughbred meet. FOX Sports 1 scheduled a stand-alone Whitney Stakes hour from 6-7 p.m., and the Hambletonian was scheduled for a post time within that window to take advantage of that opportunity. That resulted in millions of eyes that were tuned in to watch a major thoroughbred stakes having a chance to check out — and wager on — the biggest event in harness racing.
The New York Racing Association‘s America’s Day at the Races program that airs on FOX whenever NYRA has live racing has developed a strong following.
“The combination of great racing and being in front of a national television audience on FS2 and FS1 with our partners at NYRA created exactly what [Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural] and I have been firm believers of for a long time,” Meadowlands Racetrack General Manager Jason Settlemoir said in a statement. “TV is a must, and creates fans of the sport. It’s unbelievable to me that the industry gets all this purse subsidy money, but none or very little of it is used for marketing.
“When I saw the Oaks and Hambletonian total handle for each individual race, it made me smile. Jeff and I gave each other a high five, as we knew our efforts with TV were paying dividends for not only the Meadowlands and the Hambletonian, but the entire sport.
“You are getting a totally different audience with the thoroughbred players switching over to harness. I am pleasantly surprised at how much our handle was up. What really shocked me is when I saw the Oaks handle pop up.”
Five earlier broadcasts of key Meadowlands race dates had aired on FOX this summer, serving as effective lead-ins for the Hambletonian. Gural and the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey paid for those opportunities.
NYRA host Anthony Stabile was joined by Jessica Otten and Gabe Prewitt in providing background and coverage of The Hambletonian.
“The racing proved that we have a great product, but without the TV exposure no one knows we exist,” Gural said. “Let’s hope that this gets the ball rolling before it’s too late.”
Other media exposure for Hambo
The Meadowlands featured a live feed with its TV hosts for an all-day broadcast card on YouTube and Facebook, and TVG also had a presence with analyst Dave Weaver on site all day.
An hour-long CBS Sports Network retrospective was recorded, and that was broadcast on Sunday, Aug. 21, from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Another modern factor helping the race handle was the social media effort by track employees, as well as the organic buzz created by spectators who took shots of themselves at the rail, dancing on the track rooftop, or enjoying food and beverages on a hot August afternoon.