The Meadowlands Racetrack, affectionately known as the Big M, is one of the premier harness-racing facilities in the United States, if not the world.
The Big M is a power-broker in the harness-racing industry, a New Jersey sporting landmark, and a high-profile intersection of the sports, gambling, restaurant, and entertainment worlds.
The Meadowlands Racetrack is part of the Meadowland Sports Complex, located in East Rutherford in Bergen County. The complex is owned and operated by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
The sports complex buildings include MetLife Stadium, which is home to the New York Jets and New York Giants of the NFL, the New York Guardians of the XFL, and the Meadowlands Racetrack.
This page will provide a guide to the Big M’s prestige and rich history.
Address: 1 Racetrack Drive, East Rutherford, NJ
First opened: Sept 1, 1976
Owner: New Meadowlands Race Track LLC
Operator: New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority
Racing season: Spring and fall campaigns.
Post times: Friday and Saturday at 7:15 p.m. through Dec. 26. Post time for the Hambletonian on Aug. 8 is noon.
Parking: Free general parking, $5 for valet
Admission: Free every day except Aug. 8 ($5)
The Big M was an immediate hit, as an opening day crowd of 42,133 decorated the 1976 debut. Meadowlands Racetrack held its first-ever harness race on Sept. 1, 1976, while thoroughbred racing commenced on Sept. 6, 1977.
The track is a signature piece of the Meadowlands Sports Complex, giving New Jersey fans an identity as hosts for both two NFL teams and championship horse racing.
So high profile was the Big M, that the George Washington Bridge was once shut down to film a commercial of a harness racehorse trotting across the bridge into New Jersey.
Five years later, the Big M advanced beyond fan popularity to become a force in the harness racing industry. It gained a signature event — the Hambletonian — in 1981, securing a showcase that would compare with thoroughbred counterparts such as the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. The “Hambo” remains one of the prized jewels in the harness-racing business.
In the past decade, Meadowlands gave itself an upgrade. The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority privatized the track to Jeffrey Gural in 2011. That privatization included $110 million of improvements including a new 2,250 seat grandstand.
The old Meadowlands grandstand closed for racing in 2013. The new one went up in 2015.
Leading drivers in recent seasons have included Ron Pierce, Brian Sears, George Brennan, Yannick Gingras, and Tim Tetrick.
In June 2018, after NJ sports betting became legal, Paddy Power Betfair partnered with Meadowlands to open a sportsbook at the track. FanDuel Sportsbook opened on July 14, 2018.
In harness racing, horses race at a specific gait, either a trot or a pace. The horses pull a two-wheeled cart called a sulky (or spider) with one driver. Standardbred horses are usually preferred in harness racing. They have shorter legs and longer bodies.
In a trotting race, the trotter moves its legs forward in pairs — right front and left hind, then left front and right hind. Both pairs strike the ground simultaneously. Pacing involves a horse moving its legs laterally — right front and right hind together, then left front and left hind.
The Meadowlands has a track length of 1 mile for harness racing and a distance of seven furlongs for the turf course used by thoroughbreds.
The 1-mile harness racing distance is considered ideal because it limits the number of turns in a race to two. This reduces traffic problems around the turns and lets the horses string out along a lengthy backstretch. It gives them a chance to settle into a nice riding stride without being hampered by constant turns.
A number of older harness racing establishments have distances of roughly half of the Big M and require two full laps around the track for a race.
That makes the turns — four of them — a heavily-weighted factor in the outcome. A horse unable to gain good position, for example, may race wide around all the turns and add at least a couple of hundred yards to his race distance. This will often make the difference between winning and finishing in the middle of the pack and will hurt a horse that draws the outside post position.
There is a secondary benefit to the one-mile distance for racing fans. They are consistent, unlike thoroughbred tracks that feature varied lengths between sprints and distance races.
Harness racing fans can compare the times of horses at a similar distance. That’s different from the thoroughbred world, in which one must speculate how a horse will handle either a new distance or one that is different than his last race.
The one-mile harness racing distance makes the sport easier to follow, and bet.
The track is equipped to race at night and most of its races are in the evening. One notable exception is Hambletonian Day, in which the first post time is at noon.
The Big M provides a state-of-the-art convergence of the live racing, sports betting, and dining worlds. It also capitalized quickly on the 2018 repeal of PASPA. It established the FanDuel sports betting presence to complement its horse betting and racing, simulcasting, and luxury skyboxes. The Meadowlands also features food and drink options.
The Big M is a sports, entertainment, and wagering package. It is a racetrack, sportsbook, simulcast wagering facility, sports bar, high-level restaurant, and a series of skyboxes, all under one roof.
The most recent addition is the sportsbook element.
FanDuel Sportsbook at the Meadowlands Racetrack includes a combination of sports betting and big-screen excitement. There are live tellers to take wagers, and the facility is open from 10 a.m-midnight, seven days a week.
There are dozens of televisions, seating, food and beverage service, and live sports betting on almost any game in the world. The Victory Sports Bar is located within the FanDuel sports betting facility at the racetrack.
West Deck Dining is primarily American cuisine including salads, burgers, steak, and fish.
The Backyard Grill has an extensive menu plus outdoor dining. The barbecue menu includes brisket, pulled pork, and baby-back ribs.
Pink is a 300-seat tiered restaurant that overlooks the track through massive glass windows. It is a signature experience at the Meadowlands, offering dining options overlooking the live racing.
Skyboxes are available by reservations to groups. This is a rare luxury item in the horse racing industry.
The Meadowlands is the famed home for the Hambletonian and Cane Pace, valued jewels in the harness-racing Trotting and Pacing Triple Crowns. They are both showcased on the same day in 2020, Aug. 8.
The $1 million Hambletonian is traditionally run on the first Saturday in August.
The format changed in 2020, as the Meadowlands opted to host elimination heats for the Hambletonian on Aug. 1 and the Hambletonian itself on Aug. 8.
The other Triple Crown Trotting events are the Yonkers Trot at Yonkers Raceway in New York and the Kentucky Futurity at the Red Mile in Lexington, Ky.
The Meadowlands began hosting “The Hambo,” now in its 95th year, in 1981.
The Meadowlands also showcases the Cane Pace, one leg of the Pacing Triple Crown, on the same card as the Hambletonian. The other Pacing Triple Crown events are the Messenger Stakes at Yonkers Raceway and the Little Brown Jug at the Delaware County Fairgrounds Racetrack in Delaware, Ohio.
The Big M runs an extensive spring-summer harness racing season and a thoroughbred racing campaign in the fall. For 2020, the track will run exclusively harness, with a fall meeting set to continue the summer circuit.
The Meadowlands has capitalized on a recent racing trend of placing several high-profile events on one card, maximizing the captive audience assembled for a mega-event like the Hambletonian.
This practice captivates the interest of big bettors, whose wagering mirrors the prominence of the entire card.
The Big M set an industry record of $6.4 million handle on Hambletonian Day in 2019 and carries the same philosophy forward in 2020. While the caliber of racing is always strong every Friday and Saturday, some weekends will reflect the track’s approach to present a high-profile extravaganza.
Here are some “can’t miss” races at the Big M (schedule subject to change):
|Aug. 8 Races||Nov. 28 Races|
|Hambletonian Oaks||Goldsmith Maid|
|Peter Haughton||Valley Victory|
|Jim Doherty||Governor's Cup|
|Cane Pace||TVG Free For All Trot|
|John Cashman||TVG Free For All Pace|
|Sam McKee||TVG Free For All Mare Pace|
|Lady Liberty||TVG Free For All Mare Trot|
The 15-1 shot Forbidden Trail made a sweeping move around the final turn of the 2019 “Hambo” and was about to be passed by 3-10 shot Greenshoe just before the wire. Only, it didn’t happen. Forbidden Trail found a small extra surge and prevailed at the wire in a thrilling Hambletonian finish.
It was one of those situations in which the outside horse takes dead aim in the middle of the stretch and everyone expects the horse to blow past the inside competitor. But in this case, Forbidden Trail forbade it.
With an effort that defied belief — even for her connections — Atlanta proved she could be among the all-time great filly trotters when she stepped out to a 1:50.4 victory in the Hambletonian. Atlanta joined Duenna (1983) and Continentalvictory (1996) as the only fillies to capture the Hambletonian since the race moved to the Meadowlands in 1981.
Atlanta set record-setting fractions for the first three-quarters of the qualifying heat before coming in second. She adjusted in the championship race, winning in a little slower time.
What began as a perfectly normal, even routine, edition of the 92nd Hambletonian, transformed in the last few strides into an historic event. The horse first across the wire, What The Hill, was disqualified for interference with another competitor. Perfect Spirit became the first Hambletonian winner to be placed first because of an infraction.
Marion Marauder captured his elimination for driver Scott Zeron in stunning come-from-behind fashion in 1:51.3 and then won the final by a nose over Southwind Frank and a neck over a late-closing Sutton in 1:51.4.
The three-way photo finish was the closest in the Hambletonian final since 2012 when Market Share edged Guccio and My MVP by a neck. Not including the historic 1989 dead heat between Park Avenue Joe and Probe, it was the eighth Hambletonian final decided by a nose and the first since Bonefish in 1975.
The win by a nose became even more prevalent over time. Marion Marauder went on to capture the Yonkers Trot and Kentucky Futurity to become the last, and most recent, Triple Crown champion.
The 2015 Hambletonian featured the elimination heat winners — Pinkman and Mission Brief — thundering down the homestretch together. Pinkman had gotten the early jump by making a move midway through the race and had enough to hold off Mission Brief, the 3-5 favorite.
The track is located at 1 Race Track Drive, East Rutherford, NJ.
Like the rest of the sports complex, Meadowlands Racetrack is accessible via Exit 16W on the western spur of the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95), which is located adjacent to NJ Route 3 and NJ Route 120.
The Big M is famous for its $1 million Hambletonian, a prized jewel of the Trotting Triple Crown, along with the Yonkers Trot and Lexington Futurity. It occurs on the first or second Saturday of August each year.
Other notable Meadowlands Racetrack events include the Hambletonian Oaks, the Peter Haughton, Jim Doherty, and Cane Pace.
Yes, you can. The FanDuel Sportsbook at the Meadowlands is open seven days a week, usually 10 a.m. until midnight.
No. Unlike at racinos in Pennsylvania, casino gambling is confined to Atlantic City.